Today is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It will be memorialized through speeches and a steady stream of black and white, very grainy movies and newsreels made during the war to generate support as a generation of young men went to war. For most Americans, Pearl Harbor does not go beyond that, nor does the fact that this is probably the last time veterans of that war will be part of the memorials in Pearl Harbor or elsewhere. There are so few remaining and, for the overwhelming number of Americans born after the war, no longer relevant beyond a history footnote. As has been their way, this generation is going quietly, having finished their mission on this earth.
That has been the mantra of this generation – to do what needs to be done. Most relevant to them, many the children of immigrants, was that this was your responsibility as a citizen of this country. What always amazes me, at every Honor Flight I’ve greeted, is the surprise and shy delight these veterans show as they are greeted by so many, gratefully waving flags, shaking their hands, and tearfully saying “thank you.” They just did what needed to be done to safeguard our country and, quite frankly, the world.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, prompting our entry into WWII, the world stood at the abyss. The Axis powers had moved across much of Europe, conquering or exterminating all in their path – only England stood firm, alone and resolute. Japan had joined in the Pac-Asia arena. Though at an unimaginable cost wrought by this attack, our entry into the war made all of the difference. For winning the war and for rebuilding the world afterwards.
Because of those who served, and won against incredible odds (and I very much include the “Rosies” who built the planes, the women who ferried them, and the women who kept this nation running), we are able to have the lives we have, which we will hopefully pass down to our posterity.
As has often happened before by would-be conquerors, we were underestimated by the Japanese and Germans. Our WWII veterans understood this. They knew that as Americans, they could do anything. The country had their back. We were all in. A confidence that most countries don’t understand, many admire, and some resent. We don’t back down from threats or adversity. It’s not in our DNA.
Our efforts in WWII and our efforts to help rebuild the world afterwards made us a superpower. Throughout the succeeding years, all that we stand for has been tested and challenged. We remain standing, in some ways stronger, understanding the lessons learned from Pearl Harbor – to never again let our guard down and to ensure that we always have the defense capabilities to speak with authority. We owe it to those who died at Pearl Harbor and those who fought and won the war. We also owe it to those remaining, not to let them slip forgotten into the past. That should be our mantra.