WOSTER: Americans should not let Dec. 7 fade from infamy
When I was a young schoolboy, teachers always made a very big deal of the date Dec. 7.
Sometimes we’d read parts of the speech to the nation made over the radio by President Roosevelt after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on that day in 1941. One year, and I remember it vaguely as being Nettie Raish’s fifth-grade classroom, a veteran of World War II but not of Pearl Harbor came and spoke. I don’t remember who the soldier was. I remember thinking he was very old, and I remember wondering at the courage it took to enlist in the United States Army after he already knew we were at war.
I suppose the soldier was little more than 30 years old at the time. That would have been December of 1954, just 13 years after Pearl Harbor and less than a decade after the nation observed victory over Japan. No one was very old yet who had served in any portion of World War II. No one going to grade school in the 1950s was unaware of the meaning of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, the Battle of the Bulge and all the other battles and skirmishes of the war.
In fact, most of the kids in my grade were acutely aware of war, in the serious and completely naive way that 10- and 12-yearold children can be. I was a couple of years into grade school before the Korean War ended. I was in Nell Labidee’s junior-high science class when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made space satellite. It isn’t hard to be aware of war — hot and cold — when your parents talk about it after church on Sunday, the movie newsreels show black-and-white footage from the European fighting and the battles in the South Pacific and some people in your own hometown are veterans or soldiers home on leave or fresh recruits heading out for basic training.
With that as my childhood, I struggle in my older age at what sometimes seems to be a failure to remember Pearl Harbor Day. I wrote a while back about the young man in Michael Reagan’s golf foursome who wondered why American soldiers were buried in a graveyard on the coast of France. The Normandy landing and Eisenhower as supreme commander of allied forces and much other history seemed to have passed the young man by. Even the epic war film “The Longest Day,” about D-Day apparently had escaped his notice, although I supposed he was aware of “Halloween II” and “Porky’s” and several other schlocky movies.
Back in my schoolboy years, the State Theater in Chamberlain played one war movie after another, films such as “The Dam Busters,” “Twelve O’clock High,” “Run Silent, Run Deep,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and countless others. American soldiers, sailors and fliers were always the good guys, always heroic, always stoic and modest. Audiences clapped and shouted during the battle scenes and sobbed audibly as young lives slipped away from bullets and grenades and mines. Several times during the showing of “To Hell and Back,” the perhaps glamorized story of Audie Murphy’s World War II exploits, audience members stood and applauded. I remember that to this day. I also remember that Murphy, a tough little cowboy actor for much of his movie career, was a highly decorated soldier. He was one movie star who actually was a hero.
As a youngster, what I knew of Pearl Harbor was that Japan bombed air fields, army barracks and numerous U.S. fighting ships in a sneak, early-morning attack. By the time I reached Miss Raish’s fifth-grade classroom, I was old enough to be indignant at the treachery of that enemy. As an adult, I read and watched histories of World War II and learned of the many back stories — some true, others maybe not — that trailed the actual attack.
None of what I learned took away my admiration for the young people who were serving on Dec. 7, 1941, for those who survived that horrible day, or for those who did not. Each of them is worth remembering today, 72 years later.