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A Point of View: Pearl Harbor is an anniversary our country will never forget

WEST VALLEY — Dec. 7, 1941 is a date which lives in infamy. It was a cool, clear December Sunday afternoon. We had just returned home from church when, from the small table radio in the Heichberger family farm kitchen, came these shocking words: ”We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin from Washington, D.C. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air.” From that point on during that Sunday, folks stayed glued to their radios. There were numerous and continuous news flashes. The news reports were devastating, the lives lost were horrendous and the destruction was catastrophic.

I remember the events of Dec. 7, 1941, and the days following. As a sixth-grader in a small, one-room school house in the Boston hills of Western New York state, the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt were heard on Dec. 8 from the small, static-filled, battery-powered radio in the schoolhouse. At the same time, Roosevelt’s words were audible via short-wave radio, around the world. The president spoke to a joint session of Congress at 12:30 p.m. and these words will be forever ingrained in the history of the world. “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.” Upon returning home from school on that Monday, the local newspaper had arrived at our home with the banner headline, “War in the Pacific: Pearl Harbor Attacked.” I will not forget.

The newspaper gave a full account: The attacking planes came in two waves: The first hit its target at 7:53 a.m., the second at 8:55. By 9:55, it was all over. By 1 p.m., the carriers that launched the planes from 2,274 miles off the coast of Oahu were heading back to Japan. Behind them, they left chaos. Nearly 3,000 military and civilian personnel were killed and many more were left seriously injured. There were 188 destroyed American aircraft and a crippled Pacific fleet that included eight damaged or destroyed battleships. Three hours later, Japanese planes began a day-long attack on American facilities in the Philippines. Farther to the west, the Japanese struck at Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, in a coordinated attempt to use surprise, in order to inflict as much damage, as quickly as possible, to strategic targets.

The Japanese success on Dec. 7 was overwhelming, but it was not complete. They failed to damage any American aircraft carriers, which, by a stroke of luck, had been absent from the harbor. They neglected to damage the shore-side facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II. American technological skill raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona (BB-39) was considered too badly damaged to be salvaged; the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was considered too old to be worth repairing and the obsolete USS Utah (AG-16) was considered not worth the effort. Most importantly, the shock and anger caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a nation and was translated into a wholehearted commitment to victory in World War II.

I remember well; there was rationing of such products as sugar, coffee, butter, meat, gasoline, automobiles, tractors and tires. There were scrap drives, air raid drills and air drill wardens, clothing collections, emergency aid boxes to pack and the sale of war stamps and bonds. Men, women and school children, from all walks of life, were involved. I will not forget.

The story of America has been written, in large part, by the selfless and noble deeds of hardworking and dedicated men and women committed to liberty and freedom. Our American service and civilian personnel of all ages and races were united, as a dedicated family of people assisting people. Much has changed, since that earth-shattering event, on that December Sunday. But one thing that has not changed is the memory of and gratitude for those valiant men and women who have given so unselfishly for peace and freedom, through the ages. That spirit and memory lives on, and we will not forget.


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