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December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor from above, 1941-2011

Seventy years after a "date which will live in infamy," this satellite image of Pearl Harbor shows the symbols of a war's beginning and end.
The symbol of the end is more evident: The USS Missouri sits at its dock at Ford Island in the Hawaiian harbor, serving as a museum ship. In 1945, the "Mighty Mo" was the stage for the formal Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. After almost a half-century of service, the battleship was decommissioned for good in 1992 and took its place on Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row in 1998.

The Missouri wasn't even afloat on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese airplanes bombed the harbor and drew the United States into the war. But the battleship Arizona was. In the picture above, snapped by the GeoEye-1 satellite, the outlines of the Arizona are barely visible at upper right, beneath the surface of the water. The USS Arizona Memorial is the white structure sitting above the ship.

GeoEye-1, a polar-orbiting satellite operated by the GeoEye commercial venture, focused on Pearl Harbor on Sept. 24 from a height of 423 miles as it sped over the scene at 17,000 mph.

The scene was quite different in 1941, on what President Franklin Roosevelt dubbed a day of infamy. The aerial photograph you see below, taken from U.S. Navy archives, shows the wreckage in the harbor on Dec. 10, 1941, three days after the attack. Dark trails of oil stream from the dead and damaged ships. From this altitude, you get a sense of the attack's toll on the U.S. fleet, but not of the human cost: 2,390 Americans killed, 1,178 wounded.
Today, veterans, family members and dignitaries are gathering at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 70th anniversary. Flags are flying at half-staff. And Americans are looking back at the events of 1941 from a remote perspective, as if from a great height.

Alan Boyle writes
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