The Delayed Message
The first news of the attack had come to Washington indirectly when the naval station at Mare Island in San Francisco Bay picked up a radio message from Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, (CINCPAC) at Pearl Harbor: FROM CINCPAC TO ALL SHIPS PRESENT IN HAWAIIAN AREA: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NO DRILL.
The message reached the Navy Department at 1:45 P.M. A communications officer raced over to the office of Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, and he in turn caught Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, who was just leaving with Rear Admiral R. K. Turner for a visit to the Washington Navy Yard.
The admiral handed the message to Knox without comment and stood by silently as he read it.
"What does it mean?" Knox asked.
"It's the beginning," Stark told him.
Turner was more specific. After he looked over Knox's shoulder to read the message, he growled, "By God, sir, they've attacked us!"
"My God," Knox said. "This can't be true. They must mean the Philippines."
Nobody knows if Knox thought of it then or not, but virtually every major newspaper in America that morning carried his story on the Navy's advanced state of preparedness in the event of war. But he did know immediately that he had to bear part of the blame for the surprise attack, and before the day was over he would tell the President he was flying to Honolulu to see the extent of the damage.