December 7th Memories

There are dates in history, for those of us who lived through them, we never forget.  Most all Americans over the age of 13 or so can tell you exactly where they were on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania farm field were hit by terrorists.

For most Americans who are older than 55, the date never to be forgotten is Nov. 22, 1963, the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

But you’ve got to be 75 years of age or older to recall vividly Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  That became clear today as December 7th passed with hardly a mention of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack that put the U. S. squarely into the throes of World War II.  It was a “Day that will live in infamy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Congress as he requested support for declaring war on Japan, Germany and Italy.

For a 12-year-old boy in 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor was his initiation into the real world.  He soon would live through the bleak times of the first winter of the war when the Japanese took the Philippines, and our captured soldiers were forced into the cruel Bataan Death March.  He would see the real fear that the U.S. was indeed vulnerable to attacks, even as far inland as his home in Milwaukee.

He would be shocked at the destruction of London and other English cities in the Battle of Britain; he would be in awe of the damage U.S. “Blockbuster” bombs on Germany and then totally unbelieving at the destruction on Aug. 6, 1945 on Hiroshima with the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb.

The 12-year-old boy, growing into young adulthood through these years, looked ahead, seeing the war becoming interminable, with the prospect that he also would follow the uncle who helped raise him into the Armed Services.  He soon saw the stupidity and tragedies of war and would soon wonder: why must humans engage in such behavior?

Yes, December 7th is a date neither he nor any others of his age will ever forget.  He’ll never forget his mother yelling down to the basement where the boy and his brothers and their father were setting up the family’s train set to say: “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor,” and his father saying, “Oh Lord, that means war.”

At first the boy and his brother, then 11, jumped for joy, picturing how much fun it would be to “play solider” for real, only to be reprimanded by their father for insensitive behavior.  How soon the boy would learn how tragic war is!

It’s a date the boy will never forget; soon, however, his generation will be gone, along with their memories of this “Day that will live in infamy.”  Dec. 7, 2010.


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