Pearl Harbor

San Diego Transformed By Pearl Harbor Before and After Dec. 7 Attack

Many of San Diego County's military installations were enlarged or established after the Japanese attack in 1941

NBC Universal, Inc.

This story was originally published for Pearl Harbor's 80th Anniversary in 2021

Dec. 7 is a day that will live in infamy for being the day the Japanese attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Hundreds of Japanese planes attacked the naval shipyard in Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans and wounding more than 1,100 others. Twenty-one ships were sunk or damaged during the attack, including the USS Arizona, on which 1,100 crewmen died.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin Roosevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy.”

What's less well-known is the fact that the attack on Pearl Harbor played a huge role in shaping San Diego into what it is now.

Local historian Karl Zingheim, who is the ship historian of the USS Midway Museum, said the attack transformed our city into one of the largest Navy towns in the country.

"World War II's start for the United States really accelerated the entire process and essentially created the very town we live in now," Zingheim told NBC 7, "because a lot of war workers had to come in and you have more military personnel who were coming in for training and deploying to their combat assignments."

The war footing America immediately assumed gave rise to development in hundreds of ways.

"So guess what?" Zingheim queried. "They need more electricity. They need more water. They need other facilities. And so it was the accelerant that Pearl Harbor and World War II proved to be that allowed San Diego to grow rapidly but in a rather planned fashion and become the metropolis we know."

The USS Midway Museum held a remembrance ceremony in honor of the 80ths anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

"World War II changed the San Diego landscape dramatically but rather gradually," Zingheim said.

The historian pointed to many large installations around the county that got their starts in World War II, most of them holdovers from the Cold War era, including:

  • Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
  • Brown Field
  • Naval Air Station North Island
  • Camp Pendleton

Events preceding but also involving Pearl Harbor also a profound effect on San Diego County as well, according to a recent report on the The region, home to a large contingent of the Pacific Fleet, was well on it's way to being a major Navy town in the 1930s when Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt reassigned many of its assets to Hawaii instead, the better to intimidate the Japanese military in the runup to the confrontation, the Voice reported.

San Diego currently has more than 100,000 members of the military based in the region.

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