So often war stories become stories of dates and numbers. When you watch classic war movies or learn about these battles from the safety of an American classroom, you become detached – caught up in an endless list of casualties, names of distant places, and the amount of ships and planes lost.
But behind each casualty is a human being. A son or daughter with hopes and dreams, a family, and a future cut short. And behind the days on a calendar are moments that altered the course of history.
So when we speak of December 7, 1941, we aren’t just talking about an attack. We’re talking about a day that forever changed this country – a day when 2,403 Americans were robbed of their futures and with 2,403 moments of shock as parents and spouses and children learned that their loved one wouldn’t be coming home.
December 7, 1941 was, as President Roosevelt said at the time, a date that will live in infamy.
75 years ago, shortly before 8:00am, Imperial Japanese forces attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor, and attacked our innocence. What should have been a quiet December morning yielded abruptly to an unexpected act of war.
Until that violent moment, World War II had been a far-off conflict. America had been seeking peace with Japan, hoping to spare families the turmoil. But everything changed when the first torpedo struck.
When I think of that day and the horrors they faced in the attack and the battles to come, I can’t fathom the fear – and the bravery – our military and their families had on their journey. I think of it when I meet with our service members at Fairchild Air Force Base, and I think of it when I attend Honor Flights in Washington, D.C.
Forever burned into my mind is the image of our aging veterans and members of the Greatest Generation looking out on their memorials for the first and likely the last time. It’s both beautiful and painful to see, and jarring to think of the stark contrast between the chaos of war, and this peaceful memorial surrounded by loved ones.
It forces you to put yourself in their shoes for a moment, watching them reflect on the losses they saw in their lifetimes. I imagine that’s why beloved former Senator Bob Dole, a World War II veteran himself, never misses an opportunity to attend an Honor Flight.
For many of our veterans, Hawaii’s dreamy and beautiful islands became a battlefield – the dream, a nightmare. And after 75 years, the scars are still there.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was known to carry poems in her wallet. There was one in particular that she carried during World War II that I believe still resonates today:
Lest I continue
My complacent way,
Help me to remember that somewhere,
Somehow out there
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?
As proud Americans, and as a grateful nation, we too carry the burden of war and the sacrifice of our heroes with us each day. We face unique terrors in the modern world, but the tenacity, the grace, and the courage of the generations before us live on in all who call the United States home. This milestone anniversary is a reminder of that.
In times of peace and turmoil, we flourish. In the wake of destruction, we rise together. And in the face of danger, we have courage.