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Lest we forget

When South Dakota dedicated its memorial to the men and women who served in the military during World War II, the nation had just been attacked by terrorists.

Terry Woster

When South Dakota dedicated its memorial to the men and women who served in the military during World War II, the nation had just been attacked by terrorists.

The dedication came in September of 2001, the weekend following the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The nation and South Dakota were in shock, frightened and vulnerable in the days after the attacks. Then-Gov. Bill Janklow made the decision to go ahead with the long-planned World War II celebration in Pierre. It was a good decision, a moment of certainty in an uncertain time.

Some 20,000 to 25,000 people showed up for the weekend. Included were many, many aging veterans of World War II, which started for the United States following another sneak attack, this one at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. One among many emotional moments during the weekend in 2001 came when a float carrying survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack passed along the streets. Those old vets, some looking pretty frail, all looking proud, smiled and gave soft waves to the cheering crowds.

Just three months after South Dakota's World War II weekend, the nation observed the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, a date, as every school boy or girl raised in my generation knows, ''which will live in infamy.'' When I was a school kid, of course, Pearl Harbor and other key events of World War II were still fresh in the minds of American citizens. Veterans of that war, still young, strong men and women then, walked the streets of their hometowns, heroes to kids like me but just average folks who set aside everything else they had intended to do with their lives for long enough to go off and fight for their country in foreign lands and on unfamiliar seas.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first used the word "infamy'' to describe the Pearl Harbor attack. He did it in a speech to Congress in which he asked for a declaration of war between the United States and Japan. Here's a bit of what FDR said in that short message:

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"The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation. As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.''

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Only a very few of those who were on Hawaii that day are alive to observe this anniversary, but it deserves mention and recognition - as each year does the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack - by those of us who only heard of the attacks or read books and watched movies that retold the story in one fashion or another.

If you do an online search for Pearl Harbor facts, you'll find the statistics - 2,400 dead, nearly 1,200 others wounded, 18 ships sunk including five battleships. You may also find sites that tell you "Pearl Harbor endures as a symbol of American resilience and resolve,'' and the attacks triggered "our can-do attitude and resourcefulness and an unmatched commitment to the defense of freedom.''

I've read a number of factual accounts of the attack and its aftermath, and I've watched documentaries on television. What I find particularly moving, though, on the anniversaries of this date, are the fictionalized accounts. I saw the movie "From Here to Eternity'' long before I read the book of the same name by James Jones. The story ends with the Pearl Harbor attack. Somewhere on TV, the movie must be playing this week.

Herman Wouk's three World War II novels - "The Caine Mutiny,'' "The Winds of War'' and "War and Remembrance'' - are worth re-reading this time of year. Yes, they're long - chapter books without pictures - but they're good.

When I recall Pearl Harbor, or the 9/11 attacks, it reminds me that the country is capable of coming together when times demand it.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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