Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
… Always will be remembered the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
… With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounding determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
— from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s December 8, 1941 speech to Congress.
Today marks the 69 year anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack shocked the nation and catapulted the United States into World War II. It was, at the time, the worst attack on American soil. 1,178 were wounded. 2,043 were killed. The water itself burned and bodies of the injured and the dead piled up.
As more are more Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans leave this Earth, it becomes more and more of a distant historical event that we no longer honor and no longer remember. Each year, Pearl Harbor gets a little closer to becoming one of those events that we will only know of thanks to a few pages in a history book. The vast majority of survivors are gone now, and when there are none left, who will keep their memory alive? Who will honor the sacrifices of the fallen? Where survivors once fought the Japanese, they’re now fighting time — fighting to keep the memory of their fallen brothers alive, fighting to ensure that we continue to remember and honor Pearl Harbor always.
This summer, my husband and I chose to go to Hawaii for his pre-deployment leave. One of our first stops was at Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. We had the honor and privilege of meeting several survivors before riding out to the watery tomb of the 1177 American heroes killed that day. 33 survivors of the bombing of the Arizona chose to be interred with their shipmates.
We watched the black tears bubble to the surface, but the remains of the ship are less visible than ever. Standing before the solemn wall of names of those killed sobers you in a way we weren’t completely prepared for.
Seeing the names of these heroes was an emotional moment. Far more saddening was the behavior of the people at the memorial. The park ranger on the boat on the way to the remains of the Arizona laughed and joked about partying that weekend. When learning there were servicemembers aboard — my husband, a sailor, and an airman — she said nothing and continued laughing about her weekend party plans. Once we arrived at the memorial, I was appalled at the lack of respect shown. People ran around the memorial, laughing and joking. I couldn’t understand how anyone could treat the tombs of American heroes so callously. It was a warning sign, in my eyes, that too many have stopped seeing the attack on Pearl Harbor as the horrific day that it was, a day that deserves solemn remembrance and honor.
We can still make a choice, though. We can choose to remember the sacrifices of the men who fought valiantly and died with honor in service to their country.
We can remember men like Frank Flaherty. When it became known that the USS Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Flaherty chose instead to remain at his post with a flashlight, illuminating the way so that the rest of the turret crew could escape. Flaherty perished with the ship and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
We can remember men like Doris Miller, Navy Cross recipient. On the bridge of the USS West Virginia, Miller refused to leave his mortally wounded captain, despite enemy bombing and strafing and heavy fire. At great risk to himself, he moved his captain to a safer place and then returned to the bridge where he continued to man and operate a machine gun until ordered to leave the bridge.
We can remember men like William Turner, awarded the Bronze Star. Stationed at the Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, he jumped into the rear cockpit of an airplane with a fellow Marine, Master Sergeant Peters. Both men used the rear machine guns to fire at attacking Japanese planes, and despite being wounded, managed to shoot down one of the enemy planes. Private Turner ultimately died of the wounds he received that day on December 12th.
We can choose to let their memory fade away. Or we can choose to honor their valour, their bravery, their sacrifice.
Remember Pearl Harbor. Remember the men who fought and died 69 years ago today.
They fought together as brothers-in-arms. They died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation.
– Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
That was the most horrible scene you could ever think of. Shipmates there, you can’t save them.
– Ship Cook George Brown
When you go home, tell them of us and say for your tomorrows they gave their todays.
– John Maxwell Edmonds
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