When I was in high school, I used to jog around my neighborhood in order to keep in shape. My route usually took me past this one particular house with an RV (recretional vehicle) in the driveway that had a “Pearl Harbor Survivor” license plate. Try as I might, I never saw the resident of the home. One sunny day however, as I came plodding down the sidewalk, to my utter surprise, there was the veteran out washing the RV. My time had finally come.
Careully approaching him, I pointed to the license plate and our conversation began. “We didn’t sleep for days. We worked with one hand, and ate and took care of personals with the other.” He recalled. I could see the memories flashing before his eyes as his face changed shape while he spoke. I was mesmerized. He’d been there. He knew. And I wanted to hear anything he would be willing to share.
If you don’t recall the significance of 12/7/41, let me refresh your memory. For you younger set, 9/11/01 was not the first time we’ve been attacked on American shores.
Men sleeping soundly aboard U.S. ships suddenly found themselves trying to make sense of what they soon realized were the sounds of alarms, bombs exploding, and gunfire. Dressing as they ran to General Quarters stations they would hear the now famous message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not drill.” Sadly, ammunition lockers were locked, aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip in the open to deter sabotage, guns sat unmanned. Men were ashore, on leave, resting. But those on board and able to assist fought and worked valiantly.
The Japanese had called the secret mission that came in three successful waves, Hawaii Operation, Operation Z. The target? The United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Target date? the morning of December 7, 1941. Those on duty in that sunny paradise never saw it coming. Rumor says a person or two had wind of the notion, but we as a nation, never acted on the data.
It was that surprise attack that ultimately threw our country into the very war we were trying to avoid: World War II. The enemy was strategic and deadly. 353 Japanese planes were launched from six aircraft carriers that day. They sank four U.S. Navy battleships while damaging four others. They also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer, and 188 aircraft. When the toll was taken, the U.S. listed 2,402 killed and 1,282 wounded.
The Japanese only lost 29 aircraft, five midget submarines, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. Only one Japanese sailor was captured.
Horrifically, many sailors trapped in the damaged and sinking ships would never be abstracted. Their banging to be heard by those nearby. Those longing, but unable to come to their rescue. A nightmare our servicemen hoped to forget. But veterans that were there, and those that diligently sat by their radios and read the papers will always remember. As may we. It took that tragedy to force us into a war that would inevitably bring down Hitler and his regime. In time, many others in another land would be freed. And in time, we would all celebrate. That, is something to remember.
I hope you will pause this day, to remember. And perhaps remind a family member or colleague of the significance of this day in our country’s very rich history. May we remember.