Remembering Pearl Harbor 65 years after attack
Some 500 American survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are reunited today in that Hawaiian port, just as they have reunited dutifully every five years since the Japanese aggression that propelled the United States into World War II 65 years ago today.
Today their numbers are smaller and their bodies are frailer, but their memories of "the day that will live in infamy" remain fiercely intense. Despite the passing of six and one-half decades, survivors say they can still see the roaring explosions, smell the burning flesh, and hear the plaintive cries of their fallen comrades.
Sadly, this may be the last formal and official reunion of Pearl Harbor survivors. The veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, are not counting on a 70th anniversary gathering.
"We're like the dodo bird. We're almost extinct," said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
Despite the passing of time and the passing of most of the veterans stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Americans of all ages must never forget the importance of that day as a defining moment in U.S. history.
At about 8 a.m. on that morning, on that inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Oahu, more than 2,400 Americans died and 1,100 were wounded when Japan destroyed 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific fleet. In a few short hours, the United States officially became a major player in World War II, an engagement that ushered in the nuclear age and dramatically altered the American military and the American way of life.
Fly flags at half-staff today
Indeed it is important to pause today and recognize Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a national observance to honor the lives lost in that attack and to salute all veterans of World War II. President Bush also has urged Americans to fly flags at half-staff today to pay tribute to Pearl Harbor veterans, all veterans and to those men and women now serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Pearl Harbor Day is a day worthy of remembrance and reflection. The entry of the United States into World War II was one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century.
Militarily, pre-World War II America was weak. In the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War I, the United States became isolationist and allowed the size of its armed forces to dwindle. The Army, for example, fell to a low of 134,000 members. The War Department spent frugally, hesitating to invest in armaments to replace outmoded weaponry from World War I.
The sneak attack on Dec. 7 changed all that quickly. Millions of Americans lined up to join the armed services. About 850,000 Ohioans -- one tenth of the population -- would serve in World War II. In short, the country learned quickly and forcefully the importance of a strong defense and solid military preparedness.
Clearly that fortitude, that sacrifice and that resolve to conquer aggression served America well in its response to Pearl Harbor. Such qualities are needed in equally large doses today as the nation fights a more elusive enemy in a much more scattered theater of war.