Pearl Harbor Cover

Object Spotlight
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Postmarked December 7, 1941, Honolulu, 8 a.m., the moment the Japanese air raid targeted Pearl Harbor.

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Marine PFC John Rion in Hawaii, c. 1941.

Private John R. Rion inadvertently left a mark on postal history by mailing an envelope from Honolulu, Hawaii, postmarked on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor 8 a.m. cover

On December 6, 1941, Rion dropped an oversize envelope at the Honolulu post office, destined for his business partner back home in Perry, Iowa. Rion and his friend operated a barbershop. The envelope contained a photograph of a lovely young Hawaiian woman in a grass skirt with floral leis but no message. No message was necessary. Life in “paradise” suited Rion, who spent his days cutting hair, trimming mustaches and beards, and shaving his fellow servicemen.

The next morning – December 7, 1941 – the Honolulu post office cancelled Rion’s envelope at 8 a.m., the exact time that Japanese torpedo planes struck nearby Pearl Harbor and the unprepared U.S. Navy battleship force. The harbor filled with flames and smoke as Japanese bombs sank five of eight battleships and destroyed other ships and combat planes. Over 2,400 Americans died. The unprecedented air raid led to America’s declaration of war on Japan and the mobilization of American troops to the Pacific front.

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USS Oklahoma registration handstamp, dated December 6, 1941, salvaged from the wreckage following the sinking of the ship during the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Rion served in action in Hawaii, Mariana Islands, and the Ryukyu Islands before receiving an honorable discharge and returning to Perry, Iowa (northwest of Des Moines), to continue barbering for fifty years. He died in 2006, and his estate donated this historical cover to the National Postal Museum. This envelope is one of the very few surviving examples documenting this defining moment in world history.

For further information on the Pearl Harbor raid

National Park Service Pearl Harbor Memorial and USS Arizona

By Cheryl R. Ganz, Chief Curator of Philately, National Postal Museum