Pearl Harbor Telegram
The telegram that first spread the news of Pearl Harbor, from Dec. 7, 1941 Museum of World War II Boston

See the Actual Telegram That First Spread the Word About Pearl Harbor

Updated: Aug 03, 2017 12:32 PM ET | Originally published: Dec 06, 2015
Pearl Harbor TelegramThe telegram that first spread the news of Pearl Harbor, from Dec. 7, 1941 Museum of World War II Boston 

There should be no question as to why this telegram was classified as "urgent" by Lt. Cmdr. Logan Ramsey, when he sent it on Dec. 7, 1941. The news — AIRRAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NO DRILL — was directed to all U.S. Navy ships that were present in the Hawaii area, and the blunt force of that message is key to understanding its historical significance, says Kenneth Rendell, the founder and director of the Museum of World War II in Natick, Mass., which houses the telegram.

“The big thing about Pearl Harbor was that it really was a surprise attack," he says. "The war in Europe was what everybody was focused on."

If an attack did come in the Pacific, most observers thought the first target would be a place closer to Japan such as Hong Kong. The surprise is underscored by the personal memorabilia of U.S. sailors and airmen stationed in Hawaii prior to that day. "Their photograph albums are full of beach scenes and hula girls," Rendell says. "It was very peaceful, so [the attack] was a total shock."

Read TIME's original coverage of Pearl Harbor, here in the TIME Vault: National Ordeal

More from the WWII Museum: See the Original Operations Orders for the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

After Pearl Harbor: Rare Photos From the American Home Front

The exposed wreckage of the battleship USS Arizona.
The exposed wreckage of the battleship USS Arizona.Bob Landry—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The exposed wreckage of the battleship USS Arizona.
A closer look at the USS Arizona's wreckage in Pearl Harbor.
Damaged battleship in the background days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
American bombers fly over Hawaii, December 1941.
Vice Admiral Joseph "Bull" Reeves, Waikiki Beach , December 1941.
A rally at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, December 1941.
A poster at the Brooklyn Navy Yard calls for vigilance, December 1941.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard by night, 1941.
A Naval officer gazes at a cruiser's propeller at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
A worker on break at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The Intelligent Whale submarine on display, Brooklyn.
A hastily constructed defense bunker, early 1942.
Training with gas masks in Hawaii, early 1942.
U.S. troops pose in Hawaii in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Troops in Hawaii, early 1942.
Men dig a post-Pearl Harbor defensive trench in Hawaii, December 1941.
Pearl Harbor troops shore up defenses in Hawaii.
Post-Pearl Harbor training and patrol in Hawaii, early 1942.
Young defenders beside a mounted machine gun, Hawaii, December 1941.
Pearl Harbor Sign Dec. 15, 1941
Aboard an American warship, Pearl Harbor, early 1942.
A sailor chalks a message to America's fighting men from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations on a warship at Pearl Harbor.
Solider in Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
An American warship's crew shows its spirit, Pearl Harbor, early 1942.
The exposed wreckage of the battleship USS Arizona.
Bob Landry—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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