Pearl Harbor at 80: Fewer and Fewer Heroes Left Alive to Tell Tale of Infamous Day

Tomorrow, December 7, marks the 80th Anniversary of a Day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said would be a day that would, “live in infamy.”

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 America’s naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by aircraft and submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Sadly as each year passes fewer and fewer men and women from that courageous and infamous day are alive to tell the story of what they experienced.

Pearl Harbor still serves as a United States Naval institution over 60 years after being the site of one of the worst attacks on U.S. Naval resources in a single day.
Photo R. Anderson

My grandfather, Howard Kirby, was at Pearl Harbor. He was one of the lucky ones who survived the attack. After a few other close calls he was able to return to his family at the end of the war.

While my grandfather was a survivor of the attack, more than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded on that December morning at Pearl Harbor.

The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more. It also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, and one mine layer. Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged.

Each year the Wings over Houston Airshow includes “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which is a reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a way to try to show what the attack was like.

As impressive as the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” show is, I know it is nothing compared to what that actual Sunday morning would have been like for those young men and women who forever had their lives changed.

Sadly, my grandfather died when I was five-years-old so I was too young to know the questions an older version of myself would have loved to have asked him about what he saw and experienced on the day that Pearl was attacked.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground.
Photo R. Anderson

The attack, on the “Day that will live in infamy” ultimately changed the United States forever as well and led to America’s entrance into World War II.

In the years following the attack several books and movies have been released that have posed the question of whether the attack could have been prevented, or at least better defended against, if more advanced warning had been given.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and as with any event fingers of blame are often pointed afterwards.

While I certainly believe in learning from history so as not to repeat its mistakes, I am also a firm believer in honoring those who sacrificed instead of blaming the blame game.

In the spirit of honoring the fallen, many of whom were buried with their sunken ships, memorials have been built to remember the day and its events.

The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.

The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memorial is that of the USS Utah, a battleship that was attacked and sunk in the attack. A memorial to honor the crew of the USS Utah was dedicated on the northwest shore of Ford Island, near the ship’s wreck, in 1972. The ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Pearl Harbor as a teenager and also saw the valley where the attacking planes made their assault.

While both areas are quiet and peaceful now they still bear the scars from the attack that occurred over 80 years ago.

As the sands of time continue through the hour glass, each day there are fewer and fewer people still alive that were at the attack. One news report I saw stated that only 40 Pearl Harbor survivors would be in attendance for this year’s memorial service.

While part of the reasoning behind the low turnout could be attributed to people not wanting to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sad reality is every day more and more World War II veterans are dying.

There will come a day in the not too distant future where all of the members of the greatest generation are gone. When the last of those brave men and women who fought to save the world from fascism and mad men hellbent of world domination it is up to those of us who remain alive to tell their stories and ensure that the world never succumbs to the evil forces that so many sacrificed and died to keep away from our shores as well as shores across the globe.

But while there are still veterans of World War II among us take time to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

The recent death of former United States Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole, who overcame life threatening injuries in World War II, brought home in a very public way the idea that we are nearing a time where World War II veterans will no longer be around to tell their stories. Dole, pictured here during a 1998 speech at the University of Central Florida, died in his sleep at the age of 98-years-old, and will lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol on December 9, 2021.
Photo R. Anderson

Much like the veterans of World War I, and the Revolutionary War, the veterans of World War II will live on long after they are gone through the memorials and the written account of what they experienced as they are passed down from generation to generation.

I have visited battlefields and memorials from one end of the country to the other and each one tells a story of bravery that helped shape the country into what it is today.

It is through these memorials and National Parks that the Nation’s story is told to future generations as a way to ensure that the history of America is preserved.

These memorials should also serve to show us that when things looked their darkest brave men and women answered the call and united together towards a common goal and purpose. We could certainly use some of that unity and resolve towards a common goal in place of all of the division and selfishness certain segments of society seem to feed on these days.

I just hope it does not take something as horrible as a world war to bring people back together and realize we are all in this together.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready to put my flag at half mast.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

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