A display from Frazier History Museum's Pearl Harbor exhibit | Photo by Sara Havens
A display from Frazier History Museum’s Pearl Harbor exhibit | Photo by Sara Havens

December 7, 1941, began as a typical Sunday morning on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The men and women stationed at the Pearl Harbor naval base were going through their normal routines — attending church, cleaning the decks of numerous ships stationed there, eating a pancake breakfast in the mess hall.

However, at 7:55 a.m., that day became “a date which will live in infamy,” said President Franklin Roosevelt, as the somewhat overcast sky filled with enemy planes. More than 350 Japanese bombers, fighters and torpedo planes led by commander Mitsuo Fuchida attacked the naval base, killing 2,403 Americans, wounding 1,178 and destroying almost 200 battleships and aircrafts.

Part of the exhibit resembles a Navy battleship | Photo by Sara Havens
Part of the exhibit resembles a Navy battleship | Photo by Sara Havens

The Frazier History Museum explores the tragedies of that day in its latest exhibit, “A Morning that Changed the World: Personal Stories of Pearl Harbor,” which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the attack. The engaging exhibit, on loan from the Rex Knight Collection, features letters, photographs and mementos from both servicemen and civilians.

It’s quite haunting to see a letter from a serviceman to his friend, written a week before the attacks, and learning he didn’t survive. Or seeing scraps of Japanese war planes, pieces of parachutes, and worn and torn helmets that belonged to crewmen.

The exhibit begins by transporting visitors to the evening of Dec. 6, 1941, with a room full of eloquently set dinner tables and upbeat jazz playing in the background to mimic the atmosphere of a party in the Officer’s Club. The emotions it evokes are similar to how we look back on Sept. 10, 2011 — people moving about their day unaware life is about to change forever.

The exhibit starts with a glimpse of life before Dec. 7, 1941. | Photo by Sara Havens
The exhibit starts with a glimpse of life before Dec. 7, 1941. | Photo by Sara Havens

The lounge leads into what feels like the hallway of a battleship, which counts down, hour by hour, the details of the early morning attack. The hallway then leads you to the main exhibit space, with a Japanese fighter plane eerily hanging above your head. This is where the devastating and touching photos, letters and stories of the day are shared, and sounds of news reports and eye witness accounts are played in a loop.

The exhibit then delves into the political propaganda of the time that helped recruit thousands of soldiers as the U.S. entered World War II, and also examines the adverse affects the attack had on Japanese-Americans living in the country at the time.

A photo of a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. | Courtesy of Frazier History Museum
A photo of a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. | Courtesy of Frazier History Museum

Several letters and photos address the Japanese internment camps that were created after Pearl Harbor.

“A Morning that Changed the World” ends with a look at the more recent tragedy on American soil. A display reads:

“Many people see similarities between the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and an event that occurred almost 60 years later: September 11, 2001. Both attacks relied on duplicity and surprise for their success. Both took advantage of miscommunication and distrust. Both plunged the country into war. Both happened at home.”

The exhibit will be on display through March. A special commemoration ceremony and opening reception is planned for Veteran’s Day — Friday, Nov. 11 — that’ll feature Louisville native and Pearl Harbor survivor Charles Hocker and collector Rex Knight himself. Veterans and military personnel will be admitted at no cost.

Sara Havens

Sara Havens

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."