WOSTER: It's good to reflect on Pearl Harbor and how WWII changed our countryI was born two years and a month after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941, but I’ve known about it for as long as I can remember, certainly from my earliest school days.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I was born two years and a month after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941, but I’ve known about it for as long as I can remember, certainly from my earliest school days.
Every kid my age knew about Pearl Harbor, the sneak attack, the loss of lives and ships and airplanes — the loss of an innocent belief that we were beyond the reach of the rest of the world’s belligerent nations and leaders. I entered grade school while the Korean War was under way in the early 1950s. My first real current-events memories are of discussions about that war — what Gen. McArthur did or didn’t do, what the 38th parallel really meant, whether President Truman was wise or foolish.
Even so, World War II, a few years after the surrenders that ended the fighting, was current events, as well. The United States had been drawn reluctantly into war against both Germany and Japan, along with a few of their allies. The nation didn’t like the idea, it didn’t ask for the fight, but it responded. People enlisted, people were drafted, people worked in defense plants, people raised Victory Gardens and people scrimped, saved and made do because a war was on, and every citizen was part of the war effort. When I began to pay attention to grown-up talk about the time I entered first grade, World War II was still every bit as much a part of the conversation as was Korea. I have a friend, a bit older and a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea at the end of that war, who can sometimes recite verbatim passages from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” radio address to the nation after news of the sneak attack reached the mainland. He was old enough to have heard it, and to have heard many, many replays of it, and to have read details of it in the newspapers of the day.
The Pearl Harbor attack came to a nation that was arguing over whether to stay out of the European fighting, and it came at a time when citizens weren’t so easily distracted as we are these days by handheld electronic gadgets or reality television programs that make celebrities of people willing to bare just about anything for their 15 minutes in the spotlight.
I don’t know that we’re a less serious people than we were 70 years ago, but we seem to have a shorter attention span. Perhaps I sell us short, being somewhat unconvinced that all of the technology we have is improving our lives. We grew up without high-tech gadgets, but I learned a lot about Pearl Harbor and World War II from newspapers, Movietone News features at the theater before the main film, and books in both the city library and the school library.
I still like to re-read “From Here to Eternity,” “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” “The Caine Mutiny,” and “The Naked and the Dead,” along with numerous other books that helped me understand both the events and the emotions of the big war. Pulling one of those novels from the shelf now and then reminds me of a time when things were unimaginably difficult but much easier to understand than they are today.
It’s important, I think, to remember Pearl Harbor each Dec. 7. This year — the 70th anniversary — it is more important than ever. The soldiers and sailors old enough to have been at Pearl Harbor during the attacks in 1941 are about 90 years old today. It will be only a short time before the last survivors of that sneak attack have passed from this life. So will most of the rest of the generation that was alive before, during and immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack.
While they remain, it’s a good thing to pause and reflect on what they experienced that day, and on how the events of the Japanese attack and the war that followed changed our country and the people who call themselves Americans. We owe the old vets that much.