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72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack

(CNN) — Japan’s early morning assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, lasted less than two hours, but it took an incredible toll: four battleships sunk, 188 aircraft destroyed, 2,403 Americans killed. For its part, Japan lost 64 men and 29 planes.

Here, on the anniversary of the infamous attack, Life.com and CNN present photos — most of which have never ran in Life magazine — from Hawaii and the mainland chronicling a nation’s resolute reply to an unprecedented act of war.

There were roughly 50,000 U.S. troops based at Pearl Harbor. Afterward the number of soldiers spiked; there were several hundred thousand stationed in Hawaii by 1945. (The number dropped to less than 70,000 by 1946.)

“Out of the Pacific skies last week,” Life magazine wrote in its December 15, 1941, issue, “World War II came with startling suddenness to America. . . . With reckless daring Japan aimed this blow at the citadel of American power in the Pacific.”

World War II lasted four more years, until Germany surrendered in May of 1945. Japan surrendered in September of that year, in the wake of America’s destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The attack on Pearl Harbor, meanwhile, rather than heralding Japan’s greatest victory, turned out to be an act of belligerent folly that, in elemental ways, guaranteed the Land of the Rising Sun’s eventual defeat.