Tora Tora Tora, the living history lesson honouring all who died during attack on Pearl Harbor

Watch: The Tora Tora Tora display team impress in the skies above the Tinker Air Show in July 2023.

You might associate the phrase 'Tora Tora Tora' with the 1970 film of the same name, but did you know its origins lie in one of the darkest days in America's military history and helps an air display team keep the memory of those who died alive?

At 07:48 on 7 December 1941, Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft attacked Pearl Habor, the US naval base in Hawaii, changing the course of history by bringing America into the Second World War.

A phrase that became synonymous with the deadly attack which killed 2,403 American service personnel, 68 civilians, sunk or damaged 21 warships of the US Pacific Fleet and destroyed 188 aircraft, was Tora Tora Tora.

These three words, uttered by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the first wave of aircraft, signalled to Japan the attack had been a success. 

Three decades on from the deadly military attack, a group of pilots from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) – a charity that preserves, in flying condition, a complete collection of combat aircraft flown by US armed forces – performed 'Tora Tora Tora', a Second World War reenactment named after the Japanese phrase, designed to pay tribute to those who died. 

Making their debut in June 1972, when six replica Japanese aircraft used in the movie of the same name starring Martin Balsam, Jason Robards and Takahiro Tamura were donated to the CAF, Tora Tora Tora has been allowing audiences around America for more than 50 years to relive a day that forever changed the course of history. 

Burning and damaged ships at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (Picture: US Department of Defence, courtesy of US National Archives and Records Administration).

Using pyrotechnics and aircraft modified to resemble Second World War Japanese aircraft, the Tora Tora Tora display team simulates an attack at air shows around the US, while the group's narrator tells the story of the deadly day. 

Speaking with 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs in 2017 about the importance of the performance, Dan Reedy, a second-generation Tora pilot, said: "We're trying to teach the newer generation what our forefathers gave for our freedom. 

"It's just a small taste of what it was actually like in 1941, December 7." 

DVIDS ID 7901740 A replica A6M Zero from the Tora, Tora, Tora demonstration team flies during the Tinker Air Show on 2 July 2023 CREDIT US Air Force
A replica A6M Zero from the Tora, Tora, Tora display team flies during the Tinker Air Show at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, on 2 July 2023 (Picture: US Air Force).

The team of civilian pilots performs 10 to 15 shows a season, to preserve and spread military aviation history awareness. 

They have performed at events such as the Tinker Air Show and the Scott AFB for the Centennial Air Show & Open House. 

The Tora Tora Tora display team have won awards for their portrayal of the attack on Pearl Harbor such as the Art Scholl Award for Showmanship from the International Council of Air Shows. 

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