Pearl Harbor Rumors That Live in Infamy

We're taking a look at some of those rumors and which ones actually stand up to scrutiny.

Published March 6, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the reported death of Alexei Navalny from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Image courtesy of Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

After the attacks on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the atrocity as "a date which will live in infamy." Considering that the attacks are still one of the most significant events in American history, Roosevelt was absolutely right in his remarks. 

However, major historical events have a tendency to attract rumors and tall tales, and the attacks on Pearl Harbor are no exception. We're taking a look at some of those rumors and which ones actually stand up to scrutiny. You shouldn't believe everything you read about this somber day, but you might be surprised at what unusual facts are actually true. 

Let's get started! 

Was Pearl Harbor an 'Inside Job'?

In December 2016, a Facebook post went viral claiming that the attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor were actually an inside job done by Americans. The post includes an image of a world map and claims that the path from Japan to Hawaii would have been much too far for airplanes of the time to fly. 

Many people who saw the post immediately recognized it for what it truly was — a joke. The alleged path of the aircraft involved flying underneath Asia, Africa, and South America to reach Hawaii instead of just flying east over the Pacific Ocean. However, enough people took the post seriously for the original creator to clarify he was only kidding. 

Did a Woman Survive the Titanic, Hindenburg, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11?

A social media post made the rounds several years ago with a photo of a woman, Anna Mae Dickinson, who allegedly was present for and survived the sinking of the Titanic, the Pearl Harbor attacks, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. If that sounds too ridiculous to be true, that's because it is! 

The claim about Dickinson can be traced back to a 2006 article. However, the original article in question wasn’t intended to be taken as accurate and instead was meant to satirize New Yorkers at the time who thought it was inappropriate to make a movie about the 9/11 attacks. On top of all that, the image of the alleged woman was actually a photo of American artist Grandma Moses. 

Did 'The Green Hornet' Change Kato's Nationality After Pearl Harbor?

The Green Hornet fought crime in a radio drama that aired from 1936 to 1952. On the  show, the superhero was helped out by his valet, Kato. According to legend, writers on the show changed Kato’s ethnicity from Japanese to Filipino after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. 

There is some truth to this rumor, but the timeline is a bit complicated. When Kato first premiered on the show, he was described as Japanese for several years. Due to the political situation in Japan (but before Pearl Harbor), Kato’s ethnicity was changed to just Asian. Then, after the attacks, Kato was described explicitly as Filipino. 

Did Joe Biden Misremember Who Attacked Pearl Harbor?

During his time as vice president, a quote attributed to Joe Biden began circulating on the internet in which Biden appears to say that the Germans, not the Japanese, bombed Pearl Harbor. While he never actually said this, it seems like it may have just been a joke that went over some people’s heads. 

At the time, there was a popular trend of attributing nonsensical quotes to the then-vice president on social media. On top of that, the quote is strangely similar to a humorous monologue about the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor given by John Belushi in the movie "Animal House."

Were Pearl Harbor Photographs Recently Found in an Old Camera?

According to a post circulating on the internet in the early 2000s, a vintage camera had been discovered showing never-before-seen photos at Pearl Harbor. The post alleged that a Brownie camera that hadn’t been found for decades had been recovered from a locker. 

While the photos that accompany the post are genuinely from the Pearl Harbor attacks, none of them was discovered on a long-lost camera. The photos actually come from the U.S. Navy archives and have been publicly available since the 1940s.   

Were These Ads a Coded Warning About Pearl Harbor?

A 2016 book about the Pearl Harbor attacks claimed that in the weeks leading up to the attack, a strange ad for a dice game called Deadly Double appeared in New Yorker magazine that was actually a coded warning about what was to come. The evidence included copy about playing the game in an air raid shelter and dice with strange numbers on them. 

However, the widow of the game’s creator, Roger Paul Craig, was eventually tracked down, and it appears that this was one, big unfortunate coincidence and not a secret message to the Axis powers like some had claimed. In fact, Craig would go on to work for the CIA during World War II. 

Did Sean Spicer Tweet 'Today Is Dday' on Pearl Harbor Day?

In December 2022, former presidential press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted, “Today is Dday. It only lives in infamy if we remember and share the story of sacrifice with the next generation." Unfortunately for him, he tweeted this on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, not D-Day. 

Spicer later deleted the erroneous tweet and sent a follow-up message that simply said, “Sorry. Apologies.” It’s always good to double-check a calendar before you tweet about important days! 

Did Kamala Harris Say Jan. 6 Attack Was 'Worse Than' 9/11, Pearl Harbor?

In January 2022, social media users began claiming that Vice President Kamala Harris said in a speech that the attacks on the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were worse than the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks. However, that’s not quite what she said. 

Harris said that Jan. 6, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 were events that threatened democracy and “echo throughout history.” It appeared more that she put the three events on par with one another, which is reasonable to object to. However, the claim that Harris said Jan. 6 was worse than Pearl Harbor or 9/11 is untrue. 

Did 3 Men Die After Being Trapped 16 Days in Sunken Pearl Harbor Battleship?

While it sounds too horrible to be true, it’s unfortunately a fact that three U.S. crewmen were trapped in a sunken vessel and died 16 days after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Ronald Endicott, Louis Costin, and Clifford Olds became trapped in the hull after their ship took a direct hit. 

After the attack, officers initiated “condition Zed,” which closed all the hatches on the ship to allow it to sink upright. This allowed hundreds of other soldiers to survive, but Endicott, Costin, and Olds were not so lucky. It took months for the bodies to be exhumed and their identities confirmed. 

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