I remember Pearl Harbor

I remember Pearl Harbor

I can never think about Pearl Harbor, the December 7th, 1941 attack, any book or movie about it or any story an old veteran ever told me regarding it without vividly remembering my time serving on or near that hallowed body of water and the ground surrounding it.  Today, the 75th anniversary of the attack which propelled the United States into the Second World War as an active combatant, is likely going to be the last major timeline milestone where survivors of the attack will be alive to attend its commemoration as breathing eye witness testimony bearers of living memory.  As such I am reminded of my time as an active duty sailor on a U.S. Navy ship of the line in Pearl Harbor.  That was nearly two thirds of my lifetime ago.

Years before I found myself actually in Pearl Harbor I was very well read regarding the attack and acutely aware of all the history contained in the place.  I remember reading Day of Infamy by Walter Lord as a sixth grader at Kendall Elementary and watching the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! multiple times at the Will Rogers Theater when it was released in early 1971.  I cannot remember one story told to me by any one of a number of old WWII vets by which I was not totally captivated, especially those stories of how they may have heard the news of Pearl Harbor and more especially the handful of old vets I have met who were actually there or not far away.  I remember seeing old newspapers with the “just the facts, ma’am” reporting of the attack.  Seeing how some of those old vets kept a few of those original publications as keepsakes, I became instilled with the presence of mind to keep a few on appropriate occasions for posterity.

I remember the first time I entered Pearl Harbor aboard a U.S. Navy warship in September 1979.  We had to pass by USS Arizona on our way to moor at the Supply Center pier.  The crew was manning the rails and we rendered passing honors to port as we passed by the Arizona Memorial.  USS Arizona was never decommissioned.  I vividly remember the air of sobering solemness as honors to port were carried out.

Admittedly, I received a bit of windfall in terms of time in Pearl Harbor.  The ship I served aboard had difficulty passing a propulsion plant evaluation before we could continue onto a WESTPAC deployment and spent most of the first two months of the cruise tied up to Bravo Pier (aka Tin Can Alley) cold iron.  As a young early 20-something sailor, I was more interested in partying on Waikiki than I was paying extra homage to all whose lives ended there.  I’m sure all the old vets who ever served in Hawaii will agree that the Islands are a wonderful place to be young.  All the same, I can still recall grim reminders that the place was once a target of a hostile armed force because there were buildings still in use in 1980 that bore scars from the December 1941 attack.  Yes, I remember seeing the holes in one building on Naval Station that were not made by termites.  I do regret not having gone to visit the Arizona Memorial when I had every opportunity to do so.  I remember the three ships from the Japanese Maritime Defense Force that made a port visit to Pearl Harbor while we were there.  The first place most of their sailors went was the Arizona Memorial.  I am willing to extend them the benefit of the doubt now and I even was willing to do so then because if they were going to admire their Japanese handiwork I have to concede they had every right to do so.  The attack was a decisive success for the Imperial Japanese Navy.  U.S. losses included four battleships sunk, four more heavily damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed, over 2400 killed in action, 1178 wounded while Imperial Japanese losses were four midget submarines sunk, one midget submarine ran aground, 29 aircraft destroyed (out of some 350 engaged), 64 killed in action, one naval officer captured.

 The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was the ultimate result of failed diplomacy.  Granted, it was not entirely the fault of the United States or any of her allies, but war is the end result of diplomatic failure.  Sadly, that was not the last time diplomacy has failed.

Pearl Harbor and the subsequent conflagration endured by the American people was the defining cataclysmic event of my parent’s generation.  The spirit of the day was everybody serves, everybody contributes something for the war effort.  Today we have a term for the embodiment of that spirit.  It is known as shared sacrifice.  When young men received a letter from President Roosevelt directing them to report for military duty very few if any ignored it.  That spirit of shared sacrifice is what made America great and what made the United States a major player on the World stage in the post-WWII era.  That same spirit is what led to passage of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, aka The G.I. Bill which led to the creation of the American middle class.  Contrast the spirit of that era with now and the starkness of it is quite glaring.  Retiring the military draft in 1973 was the first step in moving to an all-volunteer military.  Up until the time the draft was retired, over half of the adult population had served in the armed forces in some capacity.  In 2015, it was noted that a paltry 7.3% of the U.S. population have ever served in the armed forces.  Is it any wonder why the middle class is shrinking?

Pearl Harbor + 75 finds us in a very different world than the post-Great Depression era of my parent’s youth.  It does hurt to know the USA is not as welcoming or as solvent as was the nation all the old WWII vets fought to preserve.  May we never forget those who stood ready to defend the Constitution of the United States on December 7th, 1941.  What wouldn’t we give to have the spirit of that shared sacrifice back today?

1 Comment

  1. Carl A.
    Dec 8, 2016

    I was stationed at Schofield Barracks from 1975 – 1978 and had the privilege of visiting the Memorial during that tour of duty. Several of the old Quads on post still bore the scars of strafing attacks by the Japanese…

    One visit was more than enough for me, though. That attack wasn’t legitimate warfare, it was quite simply a massacre, pure & simple. Japan ‘won’ only because they pulled a sneak attack without any warning, against a nation at peace. And they eventually paid a heavy price for that, in spades.

    When you contrast this nation’s response to that attack and the one on 9/11/2001, the difference is sickening. Our military and their families have had to endure multiple repeated deployments to Iraq & Afghanistan, unwarranted equipment shortages, and a scandalous failure of proper medical care by the VA – despite all their sacrifices – while the majority of Americans sit on their fat duffs doing nothing, with corporations raking-in enormous windfall profits & cheating consumers right & left, every chance they get…

    There will be a heavy price paid for that malfeasance, eventually, as well. And the results of this just-past election is merely the tip of that looming iceberg.