Three stricken US battleships—left to right, West Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona—after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Universal History Archive / Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
December 7, 2015

These days, it’s easy to imagine how a news event that affects an entire country could be synthesized into a single news story. Social media networks making it possible to see what’s going on at a distance, and smartphones make it possible to send reports as the news is happening. But on this day, Dec. 7, in 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor launched the United States into World War II, writers at a magazine like TIME would have relied on typewriters and telegraphs.

The week of Pearl Harbor, one of TIME’s feature stories on the attack, headlined “What the People Said,” traced reactions to the news from coast to coast. What were people doing when they found out what had happened? What did they say? How did the nation’s mood change in that moment? The finished article, a spare 767 words, was—as with most of the magazine’s stories at that time—unbylined. But behind the scenes was a staff of 200 people who worked at TIME, LIFE and Fortune news bureaus, including permanent offices in more than a dozen major cities and correspondents in over 100 other locations.

War Comes to the U.S.
TIME Inc. archives

In later days, the company would put together a 222-page bound book comprising all of the cables sent by those staffers in first 30 hours after the attack. Those cables are full of “color” from all over the nation and the world, as well as newsier elements like first-hand accounts from inside the chambers of Congress.

And, thanks to those records, it’s possible to put together all of the puzzle pieces that contributed to the final story of war coming to the U.S.

In the following slides, the italicized text is the story that ran in TIME’s Dec. 15, 1941, issue. The images and transcriptions are from the reports made to News Bureau Chief David Hulburd during those tense hours.

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