It was just before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941 that a dive bomber with the iconic red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu, at the military base Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, 360 Japanese warplanes followed in a surprise attack that devastated America and threw the United States into World War II.
The bombing destroyed much of the Pacific fleet. Three ships were destroyed with another 16 damaged. Over 200 planes were either damaged or destroyed, and 2,403 people were killed with another 1,178 injured. Japan’s losses were minimal.
As luck would have it, three Pacific fleet carriers were not in port. They had been out to sea on training maneuvers. These aircraft carriers became essential in the war that followed.
Today, the naval shipyard repairs, modernizes, and maintains ships and submarines. It is home for 15 submarines, ten destroyers, and Air Force units, including the USS Columbia, where 22-year-old Gabriel Romero was assigned to watch and provide security for the vessel. Instead, the young sailor went on a shooting spree on Dec. 4, just days before the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. According to reports, he killed two civilians and injured another with his service rifle before killing himself using his service pistol.
A U.S. official reported that Romero had been unhappy with his commanders prior to the shooting and had been undergoing counseling. He had also faced non-judicial punishment for minor misconduct.
Just two days later, on Dec. 6, another naval base was attacked by a lone gunman. Four people, including the shooter, were killed during the attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. Two sheriff’s deputies and several other people were injured.
The gunman was identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi Air Force, who was an aviation student at the base. Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference, realizing this type of mass shooting will bring back memories of 911 and raise a lot of public concern. He said:
“I think there’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi Air Force – to be here training on our soil – to do this. The FBI is working with DOD … to answer those questions.”
Training foreign nationals at the base is nothing new, but as Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said, there needs to be some changes to the vetting process. The Royal Saudi Air Force uses U.S.-made aircraft and trains many of its pilots at bases such as NAS Pensacola. Prince Khaled bin Salman, for example, trained at the Columbus AFB in Mississippi and Nellis AFB in Nevada.
Is it an ironic twist of fate or coincidence that two naval bases saw mass shootings just days before the anniversary of the historic attack on Pearl Harbor? The annual National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day will still commence, albeit with upgraded security, but the mood will be even more somber than usual. About a dozen survivors from the 1941 air strike will be attending this year’s commemoration ceremony, and so far, none have backed out due to the recent shootings.
Director General of the Zero Fighter Admirers’ Club, Dr. Hiroya Sugano from Japan, will be on hand to conduct the peace ceremony with a silent prayer and the traditional pouring of bourbon whiskey from a World War II blackened canteen into the waters of Pearl Harbor as an offering to the spirits of the fallen. The canteen is a relic from a B-29 bomber that collided with another B-29 over the city of Shizuoka, Japan in 1945. The collision left 23 American airmen killed and they were buried with the Japanese citizens of Shizuoka who were killed during the bombing raid.
Today’s ceremony will not just be about the attack on Pearl Harbor 78 years ago; attendees will also be thinking about the shooting that took place just a couple of days ago on this very same base by one of their own as well as the attack on another naval base in Florida. Minds will undoubtedly slide back to that fateful day on Sept. 11, when thousands of Americans were killed by terrorists, some of whom trained with our very own military.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.