“Why hadn’t we had anything about Pearl Harbor in yesterday’s paper?”
There was no anger. Just a simple question. The man, I could tell he was elderly, surprised me, and I distinctly remember fumbling a bit with my words.
He told me not to fret; his ire wasn’t raised, only his disappointment. Then he told me (and this I remember clearly), “We just don’t ever need to forget it, son.”
December the seventh in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-one. The attack on Pearl Harbor, much like the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, came in the early hours of the morning.
Nine-eleven came on an overcast fall morning while commuters were making their way to work, but Pearl Harbor was struck on a Sunday, a time traditionally reserved for prayer, fellowship, and worship.
Instead of a morning of thoughtful reflection, of clasped hands and quiet words spoken to the One above, the American soldiers and civilians in Hawaii were treated to slaughter. The Japanese attack lasted for two hours. The death toll was more than 2,000 American sailors and more than 300 Marines.
Shortly thereafter, America was at war against a fearsome and powerful enemy the likes of which this nation has yet to face again. The German and Japanese war machines cut a swath of bloody destruction in all directions from Berlin and Tokyo.
Their goal was singular – conquest. Yet America did not falter. America did not tremble in fear of the swastika or shield its eyes against the terror of the Rising Sun.
On the frozen fields of Europe – Americans fought.
In the mud of South Pacific jungles – Americans fought.
On the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima – Americans fought.
In the four years that followed Pearl Harbor, this nation was consumed with the war effort. It was our passion, our defense of everything that was good in the world, and the certainty it was worth fighting for.
Victory did come. Its achievement was not without monumental sacrifice and the eventual utilization of a weapon so frightening that it has never again been used in battle.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, America’s response, and the lengths to which we were forced to go to end continued conflict irreversibly changed the way wars are fought on this planet. The fear of weapons of mass destruction has kept humans from waging another World War for more than eight decades.
The heroes who lost their lives must be remembered because their deaths sparked a country’s call for retribution, for justice, for freedom’s long-lasting reign. And every day that passes to see the enduring of free people is a salute to those who died on December the seventh, 1941.