Sixty-five years ago today, the 1st Air Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Hawaii, plunging the United States into World War II. Four days later, hoping that the Japanese would attack the Soviet Union (a hope that the Japanese did not fulfill, having previously signed a nonaggression pact with Stalin), Hitler declared war on the United States.
Every year, more and more of the generation that fought and lived through World War II is dying off. A sailor who was 18 years old in 1941 would be 83 years old now, and the youngest veterans are all on the verge of turning 80. A decade from now, there will be very few left who were actually at Pearl Harbor or who fought in World War II, and two decades from now World War II veterans will be as rare as World War I veterans are now. A while back, when I was at a review course in the Chicago area, there was being held there at the same time a reunion for Marines who fought in the Pacific, mainly in the Philippines. I was struck at how old they all were, and how frail many of them seemed. A couple of them were in wheelchairs, and all of them were slowed by age and time. Yet, they seemed to be having a wonderful time reuniting with their buddies, and I couldn’t help but overhear some of what they were talking about. Not all of it was good; I recall overhearing one vet discussing how one of his company had his face shattered by shrapnel and how he later died.
So, on this day commemorating the surprise attack that brought the U.S. into the war, a day that few remember or even take note of much anymore, take a moment to remember those who fought the Japanese and the Nazis during World War II and the debt of gratitude the nation owes them all. They may be your parents, or your grandparents, or even your great-grandparents. Take a moment to get to know the men and women who were actually there 65 years ago at Pearl Harbor Remembered, particularly these survivor’s tales. While you’re at it, National Geographic has a site about Pearl Harbor, complete with a Flash-animation multimedia display showing the timeline and map of that attack and more survivor’s stories.
And, remember, above all, the price our veterans paid to defeat these threats to freedom.
With their number quickly dwindling, survivors of Pearl Harbor will gather Thursday one last time to honor those killed by the Japanese 65 years ago, and to mark a day that lives in infamy.
This will be their last visit to this watery grave to share stories, exchange smiles, find peace and salute their fallen friends. This, they say, will be their final farewell.
‘This will be one to remember,’ said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. ‘It’s going to be something that we’ll cherish forever.’
The survivors have met here every five years for four decades, but they’re now in their 80s or 90s and are not counting on a 70th reunion. They have made every effort to report for one final roll call.
We’re like the dodo bird. We’re almost extinct,’ said Middlesworth, now an 83-year-old retiree from Upland, Calif., but then _ on Dec. 7, 1941 _ an 18-year-old Marine on the USS San Francisco.
‘I suspect not many people have thought about this, but we’re witnessing history,’ said Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. ‘We are seeing the passing of a generation.’