The harbor, usually bustling with U.S. warships entering or leaving under the luxuriant Hawaiian sun, was instead that 7 December morning shrouded with smoke. The battlewagons along Battleship Row, once considered the backbone of the Pacific Fleet, either rested on Pearl Harbor’s muddy bottom or bobbed unsteadily on the surface, appearing more like funeral pyres than intimidating warships. Mangled cruisers and dying sailors starkly contrasted with Oahu’s tropical beauty, transforming the stunning island into a scene more appropriate for a horror story than a vacation brochure.
Commander Clifton A. F. Sprague, a career naval officer, stood on the deck of his seaplane tender, the USS Tangier (AV-8), trying to comprehend the inexplicable scene. Across Ford Island to his left, battleship crews swam from burning ships or struggled to keep surviving vessels afloat. Behind him, the capsized USS Utah (AG-16) and the damaged light cruiser USS Raleigh (CL-7) hinted at the desperate times that lay ahead for the U.S. fleet in the Pacific.