Remembrance: 80 years of the "date which will live in infamy"

“They started closing that hatch,” survivor David Russell recently recalled, “and I decided to get out of there.” At 101 years of age, the former Navy Seaman 1st Class will return to Pearl Harbor today and the interred remains of his comrades on the USS Oklahoma. The eightieth anniversary of “the date that will live in infamy” might be the last significant commemoration that will include veterans who helped pick up a nation and eventually carry it to victory:

Within 12 minutes his battleship would capsize under a barrage of torpedoes. Altogether 429 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma would perish — the greatest death toll from any ship that day other than the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177.

Russell plans to return to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday for a ceremony in remembrance of the more than 2,300 American troops killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that launched the U.S. into World War II.

About 30 survivors and 100 other veterans from the war are expected to observe a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the attack began.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with plans of some survivors to attend the annual commemoration ceremonies. The vaccines narrowly missed that window, but this year travel is less complicated. CBS News reported over the weekend on seven veterans that already landed to Hawaii — men who enlisted after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor:

According to UPI, around 40 Pearl Harbor survivors and 100 other WWII veterans are expected to attend today’s ceremonies, but the commemoration had already begun this weekend:

About 40 Pearl Harbor survivors and 110 World War II veterans will attend the 80th Remembrance Ceremony at Kilo Pier in Honolulu to commemorate the loss of 2,400 service members and civilians during the surprise Japanese attack on the island of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941.

“This year’s ceremony — ‘Valor, Sacrifice, and Peace’ — honors the sacrifices of those who died in the attack while paying tribute to the allies’ ultimate victory in WWII,” the National Parks Service said in a statement. …

“Dec. 7 was a catalyst that led to a changed world,” Pacific Historic Parks said in a statement. “The 80th Commemoration will tell the story of the multi-pronged attack across the Pacific and in particular the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The goal of the commemoration is to ensure that future generations will understand the valor and legacy of those who perished and those who fought throughout the war. The commemoration also highlights the importance of the peace that brought reconciliation, a reconciliation that continues to move forward today in creating a better future for all.”

The perspective on the Pacific war’s beginning should be fascinating. The US focus on Pearl Harbor at the time and afterward was understandable and strategic, but the Empire of Japan’s audacity went far beyond Hawaii. Their navy swept across the Pacific to launch nearly simultaneous attacks on Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island, Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong — all within a seven-hour period. Japan intended to knock both the US and UK out of the Pacific entirely and win at least a few years’ respite from potential counter-attacks. That strategic failure was based on a serious lack of insight into the moral character of the West, likely due to the intoxicating effects of Japan’s bushido nationalism.

But when we talk about “the moral character of the West,” we’re really talking the moral character of the men and women who risked their lives to defend our nation. We are talking about Seaman 1st Class David Russell, and all those who followed him into the fight. Eighty years later, we have all the lessons of history and all of the secrets of all sides in the fight. All that remains are the men and women who risked their lives — and gave their lives — in service to our country as it was and as it could be. We owe them that recognition, and we owe them our own efforts to make this country into one worthy of those great sacrifices.