Who still remembers what World War II was about and what it meant to Americans?
There’s never a bad day to remember and salute those who’ve fought to protect America. But there are special days when this is particularly appropriate. December 7 is one of those days. It was 76 years ago tomorrow that the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor dragged America into a global war that Americans had resisted being part of for years. Ready or not, we were in. And in one frightful day more than 2,400 soldiers, sailors, and Marines paid the ultimate price for our entry, 1,177 on the USS Arizona alone.
Few veterans of the attack remain alive. All that do are in their nineties or older. If you know one of these few, consider it a privilege, and if possible thank him for his service. Our thanks can never compensate those who had to fight history’s bloodiest war for what they had to endure. But thanks and recognition are certainly due.
While writing a piece on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the attack in 1991 for a local city magazine, I too was privileged to meet and get to know a couple of dozen veterans of that day, most of them members of the Suncoast Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. They very kindly invited me to join in a couple of their gatherings, which featured beer, burgers, and plenty of stories. These guys, most of whom didn’t know each other in 1941 but became friends after retiring to the Tampa Bay area, were easy and comfortable with each other, though some of them endured wounds from the war that still troubled them. Over the decades they had clearly honed their oft-told stories of that day and of other events of the war. And their tolerant wives allowed them to tell them once again to this magazine writer guy. I thoroughly enjoyed their society, and in their company had no problem understanding what American exceptionalism means. I don’t want to have to think of how few of these fine men and their good ladies remain with us today.
The events of that fateful Sunday morning, and those of the huge, deadly, and world-changing war that followed have been well chronicled over the decades. Bookstore shelves contain rows of very fine accounts of perhaps the most horrific set of events traveling under one name — World War II. But I fear that along with the loss of veterans of that war, succeeding generations of Americans have increasingly lost memory of that war — if they ever knew anything about it in the first place — and of how important those long-ago events are to the America we live in today. A refresher on the sacrifice, determination, accomplishment, and total commitment of 1941-45 America would not be amiss today.
Those still alive from that fateful first day in Pearl Harbor, and those who fought in the war of wars to follow and in America’s succeeding military conflicts, are to be cherished, as is the memory of those who’ve gone on. Yes, by all means remember Pearl Harbor, and remember the contributions of what has come to be called America’s greatest generation. Perhaps we could even give a bit of thought to exactly what their sacrifices were made in the name of.