Seventy-five years ago today, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, our country was attacked on a warm Sunday morning. If you are a member of the greatest generation, you may have heard on the radio President Roosevelt when he said, “December 7, 1941, a date that will live in Infamy.”
For people who heard those words, it is unlikely they will ever forget that terrible time in our country’s history. Since Pearl Harbor, there have been other days that define a moment in each generation’s lives. But, that day of infamy and Roosevelt’s words, froze that event in the lives of their generation.
The people born in the early part of the Twentieth Century, and up to about 1930, are considered to be members of the Greatest Generation. It is a term Tom Brokaw made popular by his book of the same name. From about 1930 until the middle forties, those born during this time are considered to be part of what some call, The Silent Generation.
Whenever you were born in pre-Second World War America, it was a much different time. News events sometimes took days to reach parts of our country. Newsprint and radio were the primary means for the public to get national information. Throughout the pre-war days, Americans heard about the Great Depression, Dust Bowl conditions in the Midwest, and the looming war in Europe. Then in late 1941, came the announcement by President Roosevelt, WAR.
Today, Pearl Harbor’s first-hand memories are fading into history with each passing year. Still resting where she sank, the USS Arizona is being analyzed to try and understand how long she will remain as she is today. Time and Mother Nature are slowly absorbing the great battleship. It is likely for many years to come, visitors to the site will be able to look into the clear waters and see the remains of the ship. But, for those 324 men who survived the attack, time has taken a far greater toll. Only a few still remain. The day may not be too far in the future when the ships bell will call the roll of men’s names and there will be none left to answer.
The sad part is, for many people in the future, they will never know the firsthand accounts of the Arizona and the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ships and stories of survival that morning have become pages in vanishing history books. History remembers the Arizona the most clearly, because of the great loss of life on board the battle ship. But, three other battleships were sunk and four more were damaged. Eleven other ships were damaged or sunk with great loss of life. A time will come when none who were there can speak of the courage and sacrifices made by all those at Pearl Harbor that morning. Only in electronic archives will their words and stories be preserved. For me, this fading of history and the men and women who were part of it, is a solemn time.
I have come to realize American conflicts define a major part of our history. Many of the important chapters in the book of America are written around the conflicts we have endured to preserve our country. And in each of the turbulent times, heroes emerge. Some are written about prominently in the history books. Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, and Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. are names we all know. But, for each general’s name, there are thousands of other military leaders history does not remember. And beyond those names, are the millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, merchant seaman, coast guardsmen and civilians who survived both home and abroad and did their duties. And when their time was done, they came home. The list is so long only the roll call in heaven can speak them all.
In a few more decades, Pearl Harbor and its part in history will be only spoken of by those who have read about it or watched old newsreels of the day. There will be no living voice that will speak of the day they listened as Roosevelt spoke to a stunned nation. Only on anniversary mile stone years of the attack, will the day be remembered by many that were not part of the Greatest Generation.
The day will come when the evening news will begin, “The last survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor has passed away.” It will then fall to the next generations to remember and honor those men and women’s sacrifices and re-tell their stories to our children and grandchildren.
I have a short story told to me by my Dad that I will pass onto you. He was a young Navy Seabee, and his ship stopped at Pearl Harbor to load supplies. By late in the war, when his ship arrived, much of the destruction Pearl Harbor sustained in the attack had been repaired. He saw the Arizona resting just below the surface in the harbor’s waters. Nearby, another large ship was secured to the dock, and it was evident much of her upper decks had been damaged. He had seen damaged ships before, but he remembered this one, because it had a large jagged hole torn through her mid-section. He remarked that the hole was so large, he could see daylight and men working on the far side.
My Dad was part of the Greatest Generation, and this year on Pearl Harbor Day, he is no longer with us. On this December 7, I will remember that unnamed damaged ship tied at the dock he described to me. I will wonder how dad must have felt as his ship passed the Arizona, knowing lost sailors were still inside her. Dad rarely spoke of the war, but he told me of a few images and recollections in his last years. I think he wanted me to understand a boy went to war and the experience was part of his life. When he came home, it was time to move on and place those memories deep within. But, there came a time when he wanted to preserve a few of his memories for the next generation. It is only a small bit of history, and now I have passed it on, so you too may remember. With those memories, I honor all those who served and died at Pearl Harbor and all the wars that followed, as I proudly look Through the Lens.