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Yesterday was the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It’s not a milestone anniversary, but it’s an important day to remember just the same. Not because those who fought in that war are quickly leaving us but because it reminds us of who we are down to our national DNA. A DNA that dates to the improbable formation of this nation, if not before.

My dad, who fought with the U.S. Marines in the Pacific Theater of WWII, would watch the news in his later years and note how crazy the world had become, and how glad he was not to be growing up in such violent times. I would generally respond, “What? Are you nuts! You had to deal with the threat of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito taking over the world!”

His response was generally, “That was different. We all did what we had to do.”

And that’s the essence of who we are. We stand up to anyone who threatens our freedoms and do what we have to do to protect it for ourselves and for our children. That’s why those valuing freedom from oppression, freedom of religion, and freedom to pursue opportunities based on ability and hard work flock to this country . . . and make it better and stronger.

Dad was two days shy of his 17th birthday when he first heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He remembered standing on the sidewalk that Sunday afternoon with a group of friends, listening to a car radio, when the news came over the air waves. At that instant, the University of Pennsylvania Kappa Sig fraternity doors burst open and its occupants poured out, yelling “we’re in the war!” He would listen with his whole school to F.D.R.’s speech to Congress the next day, asking for and receiving a declaration of war.

Graduation was bittersweet for the students and their teachers. When the school year had started, these students, as the ones prior, were looking forward to a future as adults in pursuit of their own American Dream. In some cases, they were the first in their families to graduate from high school. Now those plans would be put on hold for the war effort. Rather than resentment, however, there was an incredible feeling of appreciation for what this country had given them and the need to repay and preserve it for future generations. These feelings were expressed particularly well by the students in the Class page of the June ’42 Record (yearbook), whose theme was VICTORY.

“Classmates! We start out on a journey, a more complicated one than that just completed. Those tasks we undertake must not only help us to succeed, but must also help America.

“In the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States occur these words, ‘to promote the general welfare.’ This means that each citizen should endeavor to make our country a better place to live in. Now we have to contend with circumstances that arose elsewhere. We are at war to protect those freedoms America has given us. We can best protect them by exerting the force of our Americanism.

“We, the class of June 1942, leave the West Philadelphia High School and enter a new world, hoping to repay America for those freedoms offered us. Regardless of what field we have chosen, there remains in our minds one thought – VICTORY!

“First we must knuckle down and beat our weaknesses. We have to march along the path chosen, regardless of barriers. We can do it! What would be the use of living, if we already possessed the abilities which living creates? If we were supermen, without weaknesses to be conquered, we should be wasting time in this world. But nobody is wasting his time. Each time a spark ignites, a larger flame bursts forth to demolish the selfish aggressors.

“As we leave West Philadelphia High School we all pledge our allegiance to our country and offer our strength so that our parting words, ‘Let Freedom Ring,’ shall never vanish from this earth.”

It’s hard to imagine the same words of appreciation for the freedom our country has given, and the need to repay it, being stated today. This was a country of immigrants with a history of not having the same freedom and opportunity the United States provides – and an understanding of the duty to safeguard it for themselves and future generations. It’s remarkable how well they understood and accepted that responsibility at such a young age. We owe them so much.

Perhaps that’s the essence of why remembering dates, such as Pearl Harbor Day, are so important. They remind us of what this country has given us and why it is important to repay and safeguard it for ourselves and for our future generations. What does this have to do with security? Everything – and don’t forget it.

Dr. Sharla P. Rausch currently serves on the Women in Homeland Security Board of Directors. She recently retired from the Federal Government after 27 years of service, last serving as the Deputy Director for the Office of National Laboratories, where she was responsible for an extensive network of Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology laboratories focused on countering chemical, biological, radioactive nuclear, and explosives terrorism. Read More