“December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy …”
Thus began one of the most memorable speeches in presidential history.
But imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt hadn’t made one savvy editing change before delivering his post-Pearl Harbor address to a joint session of Congress.
In the debut episode of Smithsonian Channel’s The Lost Tapes, which opens with a timely episode as we approach the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, viewers get a glimpse of Roosevelt’s typewritten first draft, with two words of the first sentence scratched out and another penciled in.
The phrase originally was to be “a date which will live in world history.”
Not the same, is it? The original wording doesn’t quite capture the shock, anger and outrage this nation felt after Imperial Japan launched a Sunday surprise air strike against the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 Americans and severely damaging the U.S. fleet.
Infamy. Yes, that was precisely the right word to describe the event that brought America into World War II.
The Lost Tapes — which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, one of several new Pearl Harbor-themed documentaries airing this weekend — tells the story of that dark day entirely through the use of rare combat photos, film footage and audio (which includes the only as-it-was-happening radio dispatch).
The approach allows viewers to experience what the battle looked and sounded like to those who were there.
Some of the primary media sources used in the Pearl Harbor episode of The Lost Tapes have not been seen or heard in more than 70 years.
Future episodes of The Lost Tapes in 2017 will chronicle the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the Son of Sam serial killings of 1977 and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974.
“This is TV at its most raw, its most visceral,” David Royle, executive vice president of programming and production at the Smithsonian Channel, says of the series. “It’s a unique approach. It plunges us into the midst of events and lets us witness the drama unfolding as if we were there at that time.”
It’s a remarkable hour of television.
Here are some other notable Pearl Harbor specials premiering this weekend.
Pearl Harbor: The Truth
9 p.m. Sunday, History
This one-hour special tells how military and intelligence blunders allowed the early-warning signs of the Japanese attack to be missed.
Based on the book A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, the documentary looks at what some consider to be a scandalous cover-up concealing these errors, which made a scapegoat of Admiral H.E. Kimmel.
The documentary also addresses the conspiracy theory that President Roosevelt knew the attack was coming.
Ghosts of Pearl Harbor
8 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic Channel
This incredible one-hour documentary focuses on the relentless efforts of family members to identify the remains of fallen Pearl Harbor sailors decades after their deaths.
Many of casualties, including Ensign John Charles England, who died aboard the USS Oklahoma when the battleship capsized, were buried in graves marked “Unknown.” But their remains have recently been identified, disinterred and reburied with their families at sites throughout the country.
Pearl Harbor: 75 Years Later
8 p.m. Saturday, History
This two-hour documentary explores the biggest stories and lesser-known details that still surprise us three-quarters of a century later.
Accounts from experts, military minds and even those who lived through the attack will show how the tragedy continues to shape our country.
▪ History also will air short-form pieces in primetime this weekend called Pearl Harbor: The Last Word. These vignettes feature interviews with some of the last living Pearl Harbor survivors. Twenty-five veterans, ranging in age from 92 to 104, discuss a variety of topics, including the horrors they witnessed the day of the attack, their thoughts about the atomic bomb and PTSD.
▪ Repeat Pearl Harbor specials include Tora, Tora, Tora: The Real Story of Pearl Harbor (noon Saturday, History), Deep Sea Detectives: Japanese Sub at Pearl Harbor (6 a.m. Wednesday, History), Codes and Conspiracies: Pearl Harbor (7 p.m. Wednesday, American Heroes Channel) and Pacific Secrets: Pearl Harbor (8 p.m. Wednesday, AHC).
▪ A couple of action-packed feature films also recount the story of the infamous battle: the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor (7 p.m. Wednesday, AMC) and the 1970 movie Tora! Tora! Tora! (7 p.m. Wednesday, Turner Classic Movies).