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America in the Second World War

51d. War in the Pacific

The United States Marine Memorial
Located in Arlington, Virginia, this sculpture depicts the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima and is dedicated to all Marines who have given their life in defense of the United States.

Defeating Germany was only part of America's mission.

Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of Japanese assaults on American holdings in the Pacific. Two days after attacking Pearl Harbor, they seized Guam, and two weeks after that they captured Wake Island. Before 1941 came to a close, the Philippines came under attack.

Led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Americans were confident they could hold the islands. A fierce Japanese strike proved otherwise. After retreating to strongholds at Bataan and Corregidor, the United States had no choice but to surrender the Philippines. Before being summoned away by President Roosevelt, General MacArthur promised: "I shall return."

Before he returned however, the Japanese inflicted the Bataan Death March, a brutal 85-mile forced on American and Filipino POWs. 16,000 souls perished along the way.

Midway Islands
The map inset depicts the movements of both the Japanese and Allied forces during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

In June 1942, Japan hoped to capture Midway Island, an American held base about 1000 miles from Hawaii. Midway could have been used as a staging point for future attacks on Pearl Harbor. The United States was still benefiting from being able to decipher Japanese radio messages. American naval commanders led by Chester Nimitz therefore knew the assault was coming.

Airplane combat decided the Battle at Midway. After the smoke had cleared, four Japanese aircraft carriers had been destroyed. The plot to capture Midway collapsed, and Japan lost much of its offensive capability in the process. After the Battle of Midway, the Japanese were forced to fall back and defend their holdings.

General MacArthur during WWII
In 1941, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was forced to surrender the Philippines, but made his famous promise of "I shall return." Three years later, he made good on his promise to liberate the islands.

Island hopping was the strategy used by the United States command. Rather than taking every Japanese fortification, the United States selectively chose a path that would move U.S. naval forces closer and closer to the Japanese mainland. In October 1944, MacArthur returned to the Philippines accompanied by a hundred ships and soon the islands were liberated. The capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa cleared the way for an all-out assault on Japan. Despite heavy losses, the Japanese refused to surrender. They intensified the attacks on American ships with suicide mission kamikaze flights.

In April 1945, President Roosevelt died of a brain hemorrhage, and Harry Truman was unexpectedly left to decide the outcome of the war in the Pacific.

On the Web
American Greats: Navajo Code Talkers
1942 found the U.S. military at a loss. The problem? How to find a code that the Japanese couldn't crack. The solution was a language that had never been written down — the language of the Navajo tribe. Over 400 Navajo "Code Talkers" were enlisted and the American war effort benefited greatly from their contributions. This site from one of the Code Talkers' children, tells the Code Talkers' story with primary sources and even includes the code itself.
Iwo Jima
No foreign army had ever walked on Japanese soil, until the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945. The land assault proved to be one of the bloodiest in World War II with 6,000 American casualties and nearly all — some 22,000 — of the Japanese killed. Become informed with this superb collection of essays, and feast your eyes on images of Iwo Jima statues, movies ... even postage stamps.
Naval War in the Pacific
This webpage is dedicated to explaining the campaign waged against the Japanese from the air during World War II. Color images are the norm here, with descriptions of each, and the page is broken into sections for easy viewing: "The Men," "The Aircraft," and "The Carriers." A neat feature of the site is the way you can view the images. Just place your cursor on the link without clicking, and a small version of the picture appears in the upper left corner of the site. Well done!
The Pacific War: The U.S. Navy
Images abound in this website about the U.S. Navy's role in the war against Japan. Sections on military transport, intelligence, bases, biographies, battles, statistics, and more.
Battle of the Coral Sea
The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first clash between aircraft carriers in naval history and marked the end of Japan's supremacy in the South Pacific when the Allied forces thwarted the Japanese plan to conquer Australia.
The American Experience: MacArthur — Capture and Death March
Nearly 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers were forced to surrender to the Japanese at Bataan in 1942. These troops were then marched through intense heat to a camp over 60 miles away. Somewhere between 5,000 and 11,000 soldiers died due to the lack of food and water. PBS presents interviews with survivors and supplements their chilling tales with photos and a map of the Bataan Death March.
Battle of Midway
The Midway Atoll was the focal point of the Japanese attempt to seize control of the region in June of 1942. However, an efficient communication system allowed the U.S. Pacific Fleet to ambush and destroy three Japanese aircraft carriers, permanently weakening their forces and turning the tide of the war. Detailed links and plenty of images make this website a very good resource.
I shall return. -Gen. Douglas MacArthur
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Approximately 5,338,000 soldiers and 10,370,000 civilians were killed in the Pacific Theater alone at the end of World War II.
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Yesterday, December 7, 1941 ... a date which will live in world history ... Well wait a minute! What about a day that will live in infamy? Did Franklin Roosevelt change his historic address at the last minute?
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