It’s a good excuse to put out the flag (not that we need an excuse), which I did this morning. This famous and fateful date still lives in infamy, though in the minds of fewer and fewer Americans as the years and decades go by. Even fewer have any direct memory of the day, either from being on the scene themselves or from hearing about it on the radio.
It was 75 years ago today that Japanese war planes attacked the American Naval base and fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing 2,405 American sailors, marines, soldiers, and civilians with nearly a like number wounded. The eight American battleships moored there were either sunk or damaged, as were many other ships of various classes. The unprovoked attack led directly to America’s entry into the biggest and most costly war in history.
In 1991, the 50th anniversary of the attack, I had the privilege of interviewing a dozen or so Pearl Harbor attack veterans for an article in the December issue of a local city magazine. It was a pleasure hearing these guy’s stories of what was a wrenching day for them all (to be followed by many wrenching days between then and the surrender ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri). They were mostly sailors, and a couple of soldiers. They had enlisted for various reasons. Some out of patriotism, some seeking adventure, others because good jobs were hard to find back them. They were all humble. They didn’t think they had done anything special in trying to fend off the unprovoked attack that our peacetime Navy was not prepared for. Of course they had.
Those fine Americans were then about the age I am now. I hate to think about how many are still with us, very possibly none of them. Pearl Harbor survivors across the nation are pretty thin on the ground now. The 18 year-old seaman apprentice on that day would be 93 now. We need to honor the service of those who remain, of those who have gone on, and the country they fought for by remembering them, and by remembering this day.