-by Geoff Caldwell-
(Publisher’s note: Below is a reprint of last year’s 70th anniversary column. Another year may have passed but the words and the warning are as valid today as they were then. Wherever you are today, whatever you are doing, please, take a moment to remember and reflect upon all the souls lost and the sacrifice they made that we may have today what they never saw.)
Imagine you just graduated last spring from Joplin High. You’re 18, full of life and ready to take on the world. But you’re not from money, college isn’t in the cards for you, neither is the idea of going into the family business.
You want to do something, you want to make a difference.
With war clouds already engulfing Europe, you head down to the local recruiting station and sign yourself over to the United States Navy.
Though it’s only six month’s later, today you find yourself not quite believing your good fortune. You made it through basic, showed the Chief you had what it took, even survived liberty in San Francisco before shipping out and now find yourself in a Pacific paradise.
You still can’t believe your luck. While your buddy Smitty is stuck on a destroyer escorting those useless carriers, you’re part of the “real” navy, the “power and pride” of the fleet, a battleship. Oh, the beauty of those 14 inchers as they greet the morning sun.
While others still sleep, you’re topside and spit and polished as required; A proud new addition to the color detail of one of the grand dames of the United States Pacific Fleet, the USS Arizona.
It’s 0750 and the day is starting off perfect; clear skies, an ocean breeze and easy Sunday duty ahead. Life just didn’t get any better. And tragically it didn’t.
Five minutes later the air raid sirens pierce the peace. You do a double take, what you see is not possible. Instead of the white star of the Army Air Corps the planes bear the blazing rising sun of the Imperial Japanese fleet.
Puffs of smoke begin rising from Hickam Field and then your ears are suddenly numbed by a horrific explosion. Across Ford Island you see the Utah in flames. Two minutes later you’re thrown to the deck as the first bomb finds its mark. Miraculously you shake yourself off and see but minor damage to your beloved Arizona. But then you look back to the sky through the billowing smoke. The last thing you see is a hunk of metal falling straight for you. You scramble but the seconds too short. You see it crash through the deck, right between turrets one and two, you see the flash…………
And in an instant, your beloved Arizona goes from ship to tomb as you and one thousand, one hundred and seventy-six of your fellow sailors become forever immortalized in the annals of history.
While the 18-year-old above is purely fictional, there is no doubt the reality of that day. There is no doubt the lives cut short, the destruction unleashed, the world as known, forever re-shaped.
If you were a recent graduate on duty that Sunday morning and managed to survive the day and subsequent war that followed, you’d be around 88 years young today with that terrible morning now 70 years in the past.
You’d be joined by an estimated two to three thousand fellow survivors but you’d also be something much more.
You’d be a member of a generation that this nation owes an un-payable debt. A member of the generation now labeled as “the greatest”, at the time you were just doing what had to be done and do it you most certainly did.
You didn’t set out to be heroes, leaders and role models, but when history thrust such upon you, you did not run, did not waver, and did not fail. You showed the world just how deep the depth of the American character and just how powerful the power of freedom.
But sadly, your “day of infamy” is a world far, far away to most Americans today. It is but just another day on the calendar that marks something old that happened a long time ago and irrelevant in the comings and goings of the modern world.
And though seven decades have passed since that day when the sun rose on peace and set on war the lessons of December 7th 1941 are just as relevant this December 7th, 2011.
That it is all too easy to lull ourselves into a false sense of security. To delude ourselves that just because we are America history does not apply to us. That no matter the fall of past great civilizations it cannot happen here. After all, we’re America, we’re the richest nation on earth, we’re “too big” to fail.
Be it the radical terrorists plotting against us from the outside, or the radical left attacking us from within, we are just as vulnerable today as our Pacific fleet that Sunday morn.
So please, wherever you are today, no matter how busy take but a moment and say a silent prayer for the souls lost and what they did and a thank you for all that have carried forward through the years.
And take more than a moment to reflect upon the words of two men much more prophetic than I:
Ronald Reagan put it into perspective:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
And George Santayana put it into a warning for the ages:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
For additional reflections on this date:
December 7, 2010: Can we survive this brutal attack?
December 7, 2009: Pearl Harbor through the lens of 9-11