Today is the 75th anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy,” the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy that led to America’s immediate entry into World War II. We honor the thousands lost that Sunday morning in Hawaii, just as we celebrate the heroic actions taken that day which no doubt saved thousands of more lives.
Today’s anniversary brought me back to the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 1991, when I was a young reporter barely a year out of college for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. The newspaper that year (well before the age of social media) put out a call for surviving veterans of the Pearl Harbor attacks to come forward and tell their stories, and many of them did. The result was a wonderful special section with more than a dozen gripping, terrifying and often inspirational remembrances of that awful day.
I wish I could remember the name of the gentleman I interviewed for a story which ran 25 years ago today, but I will never forget the story he told. He likely was younger on December 7, 1941 than I was that day I interviewed him, and he recalled how that morning he had been given the rather unenviable task of digging a new latrine at the naval base. But he did as he was ordered, and was out there digging away in the early daylight hours when he saw planes flying fairly low. He thought it odd to see our U.S. planes out flying so early, but then told me how everything changed in an instant when he saw a dreaded but very familiar Japanese “Rising Sun” on the side of the planes. The bombing, as he remembered, started almost instantly.
But he’d been digging this new latrine, which suddenly and quite unexpectedly became a very convenient foxhole into which he could jump and take cover. He credited that ditch, at least in part, with helping to save his life – from that point he did all he could to help fight back and help others stay alive.
I was struck that day by how vividly he recalled those horrible events, in such precise detail, and how recent it still seemed to him all these years later. I also recall how proud he was, justifiably, not only of his service that day and in the war years to come, but of all those who served with him. They were young, too young – barely out of high school, many of them. But here they were at this unspeakably momentous juncture in their lives where nothing would ever be the same.
We honor the sacrifices, the bravery, the selflessness of all who served that day in Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago today – the more than 2,400 killed, more than 1,000 wounded and countless others who served and fought and saved lives and saw their own lives scarred and changed forever that day. The gentleman I had the privilege of interviewing, though long into his retirement, made it all so clear for me through his thoughtful recollections. You get older, you learn, you grow and your life takes you on a series of amazing journeys. But you never forget what happened and what you saw that day. You remember it all, and all of us – even those of us who weren’t alive yet – do all we can to remember it with them. And to keep saying thank you.