ROME, Ga. — December 7, 1941 — A date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The day following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s words were etched into history as he asked Congress for a declaration of war against the empire.
Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base on that Sunday morning began at 7:55 a.m., and two hours later it was over. The attack damaged or sunk all nine battleships, destroyed over 300 aircraft, and left over 2,400 American military and civilians dead.
Today, the pilots of the Tora! Tora! Tora! air show team bring the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M and Nakajima B5N aircraft to life as they recreate the historic event over the airfield. The Commemorative Air Force team whose motto is Lest We Forget, presents a living history lesson which includes pyrotechnic explosions and a stirring narrative detailing the attack.
“Tora! Tora! Tora! represents a living history lesson to give the audience a brief indication of what the attack on Pearl Harbor was actually like,” Tora pilot Dan Reedy said as we stood on the flight line of the Wings Over North Georgia air show in Rome. “We take our performance all across the country with our eight aircraft.”
A Tora! pilot since 2004, Reedy’s father served as a founding Tora! pilot. As one of the oldest civilian air show teams, Tora! began in 1972 and is based on the 1970 theatrical movie of the same name. In fact, Reedy confirmed each of the aircraft they fly were built for and used in the movie.
The aircraft fly separately from all directions while smoke and huge fiery explosions are felt by the crowds as Tora! simulates the Japanese bombing runs. The Wall of Fire and the Walking Bomb are two of the popular pyrotechnics you will see as the aircraft screams across their targets
“The first wave of the attack was around 180 airplanes,” Reedy explained. “To think that our young sailors and service men and women were at Pearl Harbor not expecting the total chaos, and to sit back and place yourself in that position to see what was going on during this.”
As Tora’s aircraft begin to taxi out for the show, it is done as if they were launching from a Japanese aircraft carrier. The ground crew bows in Japanese fashion as the pilots depart on their mission. Across the air show loud speakers, a recording of singer Kate Smith performing “God Bless America” is played as the demonstration concludes.
“To make Tora! happen we need the pilots, we have the pyrotechnics, and the narrator,” he added. “The pyros add the special effects, our announcer the narrator tells the story, and then the airplanes add to that story.”
The show is focused on the Japanese aircraft and their attack runs, however a Tora! Tora! Tora! performance leaves you with a strong patriotic feeling. For the remaining Americans who had lived through that day nearly 80 years ago, they have given Tora! positive reviews during their four decades.
After Reedy gave his aircraft a preflight check and signaled it was time to perform, he looked back and added, “Flying with Tora is a privilege and an honor that we get to do what we do.”
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)