Climb Mount Nitaka

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Daniel Manuel
  • 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron
"Climb Mount Nitaka", sent on Dec. 2, 1941,was the coded signal that Japan had made the decision to go to war. Having sortied in late November, the Japanese battle fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was now north of Hawaii in violent seas surrounded by a picket line of submarines and headed south. 5 Days later the battle fleet, consisting of 6 aircraft carriers, launched a series of strikes against Hawaii. 

An incredibly well planned attack, the Japanese had spent nearly a year planning, studying and rehearsing. Weapons were modified to function in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. Landmarks, ship silhouettes, and strike routes were committed to memory. 

By the end of the day six US battleships, California, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, were mortally wounded and 3 more, Pensylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee were badly damaged. A total of 21 ships had been sunk or damaged; the US Pacific Fleet, with the exception of the Aircraft Carriers, was in ruins. On the airfields around Oahu, 75% of the aircraft were either damaged or destroyed. 2,400 Americans were dead and another 1,100 were wounded. 

Among the dead was the namesake of our base, 2nd Lt. George Whiteman. He took off in a P-40B Warhawk from Bellows Field and was shot down right after becoming airborne by Tsuguo Matsuyama. He was fatally injured after being thrown from the aircraft during the crash. 

During the planning for what the Japanese called Operation Hawaii, Admiral Isoroku Yamamato, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet wrote a supporter of his concerns for entering a protracted conflict with the US, ". . . if there should be a war between Japan and America, then our aim, of course, ought not to be Guam or the Philippines, nor Hawaii or Hong Kong, but a capitulation at the White House, in Washington itself. I wonder whether the politicians of the day really have the willingness to make sacrifices, and the confidence, that this would entail"? 

The resolve of the American people became readily apparent. Interviewed the night of the attack by reporters from the Sedalia Democrat, George Whiteman's mother no doubt grit her teeth when she evinced the resolve of her nation, "It's hard to believe. It might have happened anytime, anywhere. We've got to sacrifice loved ones if we want to win this war." During the next four years that resolve was shown again and again at aircraft factories in Burbank, victory gardens in New York City, the beaches of Anzio and Iwo Jima and in freezing cockpits at 25,000 feet over German occupied Europe. 

Today's enemy is no less capable of carrying out complex, well executed plans, no less ideologically motivated than the enemy that our grandfathers and grandmothers faced. 

The enemy is however, much more insidious. They do not wear the uniform of a combatant; they can be any face in a crowded market. They are willing to sacrifice themselves and those around them to achieve victory. They make no differentiation between the civilian and the soldier, the child and the adult. They no doubt anticipate the eventual dissolution of our will--a huge risk when you consider that for the vast majority of American's, today's war is little more than a news story. Most continue to live just like they did before 9/11, relatively untouched by the conflict going on around the world. 

After I joined the military, my uncle told me stories about serving with the 'Big Red One", the 1st Infantry Division. He fought at the Kasserine Pass and the invasions of Sicily and Italy, before being wounded by a German 88mm gun and sent home. Whenever I get a little full of myself, I like to pause and think about my Uncle Don and how, when it comes down to it, I really haven't had to work that hard to ensure that America stays free. Don't get me wrong, what I've done has been and continues to be important and just like your job, it's critical to our nation's defense, but there is a little less 'immediacy'. I've never stormed a beach, been captured doing armed reconnaissance, or had a brick wall fall on me after a well placed artillery round went off. 

That said, there are a heckuva a lot of Americans, many from right here at Whiteman Air Force Base that are working that hard, that do have that 'immediacy'. Many of our Airmen are doing convoy duty, working on counter IED teams, and otherwise putting themselves in harms way. Other Americans are patrolling the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad, wearing the uniforms of our sister services. Regardless of what they're doing and wearing, they need your support and prayers. Think of them this Christmas/Holiday Season, send the ones you know a care package or a card or an e-mail to remind them how much they are missed and how important they are. In any way you can, show the same level of resolve that our grandparents showed. 

Thank you for serving your country in time of war.