GratiTuesday: Pearl Harbor Memory Keepers

Tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of the surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy. On December 7, 1941, the residents of Pearl Harbor were just waking up to a quiet Sunday morning when, just before 8 a.m., the first wave of Japanese fighter planes and bombers began their quest to destroy the Pacific Fleet and cripple the U.S. military. The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan.

The USS Arizona during the attack. Photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain.
The USS Arizona during the attack. Photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain.

Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. 2,008 members of the military and 68 civilians died and 1,178 were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. All of the Americans killed or wounded were non-combatants, given that there was no state of war when the attack occurred.

As we continue to lose members of the Greatest Generation, this special group – those who were witness to the attack – is also dwindling rapidly. Those who were there shared the rallying cry: “Remember Pearl Harbor!” Sadly, fewer and fewer people really do. In fact, the national organization of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association disbanded five years ago after its membership, once close to 30,000, fell to less than 3,000.

Commemorations of the attack are held annually at the Pearl Harbor memorial site in Oahu. On this 75th anniversary, a key focus will be on our country’s relationship with Japan and a celebration of 71 years of peace between us. In fact, on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would visit Pearl Harbor, becoming the first sitting Japanese leader to go to the site of the attack.

Yesterday’s unexpected announcement came six months after President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the memorial in Hiroshima for victims of the U.S. atomic bombing of that city. Prime Minister Abe, in a brief statement to reporters, said he would visit Hawaii on Dec. 26 and 27 to pray for the war dead at the naval base. “We must never repeat the tragedy of the war,” he said. “I would like to send this commitment. At the same time, I would like to send a message of reconciliation between Japan and the U.S.”

I am so grateful for those who are keeping the memory of Pearl Harbor alive. As we “Remember Pearl Harbor,” it’s also important to appreciate the power of reconciliation. For anyone witnessing the attack that day it would have been nearly impossible to believe that the United States and Japan – bitter adversaries – could now be close allies. I am grateful that we are.