It was 69 years ago today, December 7, 1941, young sailors and soldiers waking to another Sunday morning in Pearl Harbor Hawaii were suddenly and brutally thrust into the war that would become the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, World War Two.
For nearly two hours, waves of Japanese aircraft flew in, dropping bombs, torpedoes and strafing airfields and ships moored in the harbor in an effort to cripple the American Naval Pacific Fleet and prevent our Navy from influencing the war that the Japanese was planning to wage in Southeast Asia against Britain, the Netherlands and the U.S. in the Philippines.
“Four U.S. Navy battleships were sunk (two of which were raised and returned to service later in the war) and all of the four other battleships present were damaged. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,402 personnel were killed and 1,282 were wounded. The power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light, with 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.”
While the surprise attack was an initial success, it ultimately proved to be a deadly miscalculation for the Japanese that was reportedly noted immediately after the sneak attack by Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
While the quote itself is called into question, the ultimate outcome and somberness of the words are now a historical fact.
69 years later, the city of Vancouver once again gathered on this day to pay homage to those who are still entombed in the rusting hulks of ships still sitting beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor and give respects to the handful of men still living who endured the attack that day and who fought back against the tyranny of the then Japanese government and after defeating them, guide them back to being viable and welcome allies.
Even as a Veteran myself, I can only imagine the untold horror those men experienced that day. They were the same age I was when I served in the Viet Nam War, but I knew I was being sent into a War. They woke up to a massive wave of enemy aircraft attacking instead of the expected peaceful Sunday.
From the tearful admonition of Vancouver’s Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Vice-President Hal Lacey hoping such an attack never happens again to the emotional rendition of God Bless America, sang by Vancouver Police Officer Ray Reynolds, the hour and a half of ceremonies was in appreciation for what these aging men endured.
Retired Navy Commander Larry Commander served as Master of Ceremonies, introducing those survivors who were attendance and guest speakers who included Vancouver Mayor, Tim Leavitt, who although never served in the Military paid deep respects to those who died and those who survived to fight back.
Gene Cole, from Portland’s Chapter #1 of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association gave a short speech, recalling his own actions that fateful morning and the actions of those he saw fall around him.
A young sailor currently serving as the U.S. Navy Recruiter in the Vancouver area, whose name escapes me, paid his respects and recited the sailor’s creed,
“I am a United States Sailor. I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and all who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.”
Who better in our history has shown that than those men who endured that fateful day?
Earlier years saw a placing of a wreath into the Columbia River, but as this year’s ceremony was held indoors at E.B. Hamilton Hall, in the Historic Fort Vancouver, aging survivors dressed in uniforms and association colors stood and hung it from the front of the speakers’ lectern.
Aging men who will be lucky to see another commemoration, assisted by walkers and canes, some struggling even to stand, proudly walked up to pay their own homage to fellow shipmates who never returned.
Speaking with these men prior to the opening ceremony filled me with awe of what they endured, what they accomplished and the deep memories each has of that day and the rest of the war.
Older and bent over today, some with graying or balding hair, long widowers, once they were the young warriors and sailors who paid the price that my generation and successive generations remained a free people.
We owe these men a debt of gratitude impossible to repay. We can never give back what they lost that day and I imagine none would accept it if we could, knowing the price had to be paid to remain free.
To a man they are true patriots and Americans, proud of their country, shipmates and fellow Veterans.
As Vancouver Police Officer Ray Reynolds so eloquently sang, “God Bless America.”
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