Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75 years

As much as we might like to think, we Sailors do not own Pearl Harbor. The attack, that is. But you might not know it when talking to any Sailor, past or present. We still take the attack to heart. We still shed tears at the thought of our brothers perishing in the attack. We cry when we see the photos and videos as the Arizona exploded in one huge hellish fireball.

If you didn't know (and I cannot imagine anyone not), today is the 75th anniversary of Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today is a day we Sailors remember. We remember to never forget.

I think for the modern reader, especially those living in New York or Washington, D.C., Pearl Harbor serves as a reminder how vulnerable we all can be. It's personal.

This date in 1941, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said before Congress the following day, "a date that will live in infamy."

To Sailors, Pearl Harbor's "Battleship Row" is hallowed ground, and year after year, when December 7th nears, news sources reach out to the survivors and their families. Millions of tourists travel to Pearl Harbor to see, to experience and imagine what it was like to have been there that fateful day.

Each year, news teams travel to Hawaii to document the survivors who have gone to memorialize their lost shipmates whose lives were snuffed out that sunny Sunday morning all those years ago.

Each year, we listen to those tales from the men who were there.

Now, 75 years later those Sailors, Marines, and soldiers are an endangered species. Most, if not all, are now more than 90 years old and their numbers dwindle with each passing day. Each year, news crews find fewer men and women to interview. Soon enough, they will only live in our memories.

All those 75 years ago, we Americans received an unexpected wake-up call that thrust us into a war President Roosevelt sought to keep us out of (at least publicly). America's days as an isolationist nation had come to an end.

That surprise attack at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and Bellows Field temporarily left our Pacific fleet crippled. Nearly 2,500 Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Soldiers were left dead, another 1,178 troops wounded.

Until 7:48 that morning, America sat in an uneasy state of peace, unaware that the Japanese Navy was silently approaching Hawaii. Still, America got caught with its guard down.

By morning's end, the fleet was all but destroyed and nearly every warplane burned, bombed, before being able to fend off Japan's attack.

Remember Pearl Harbor" became the rallying cry leading more than 10 million men to enlist (or were drafted) into military service to fight in two war theaters (Europe and the Pacific). Because Japan so misjudged how America would react to this attack, their nation was led to near ruin.

While we remember those who died at Pearl Harbor, both military personnel and civilian alike, we cannot forget that 405,399 servicemembers died during World War II... and millions more worldwide.

Pearl Harbor remains the costliest attack (of loss of life) this nation has suffered. The attack forever shaped the role America plays in our world.

To this day, Pearl Harbor's allure draws Sailors like a magnet to steel. No Sailor stationed in Hawaii or one making a port of call has not found his or her way to stand on the deck of the USS Arizona Memorial, a solemn reminder of those we lost that day.

No Sailor worth his uniform has not toured the decks of USS Missouri. Berthed barely 300 yards away from the ship's bow, thousands of Sailors have also paid their respects to the honored dead at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, informally nicknamed the "Punchbowl."

Each year, the major TV networks pay respects to remember that day, that date in infamy. I doubt there is not a Sailor out there who watches those solemn reports and are not in tears. I know I find myself drawn to watch each story, each Sailor recalling where they were that fateful Sunday morning.

Today, when visiting Ford Island at Honolulu, visitors are ferried out to USS Arizona Memorial or USS Missouri (BB-63). 

I have often noted that the two ships define the war effort. The first chapter and the last, the beginning and the end.

So, today 75 years later, we honor and render our respects. We remember and we never forget.