Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pearl Harbor Ceremony Honors Attack Survivors

This weekend's USA Today has an article on the commemoration at Pearl Harbor of the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941:

Nearly 500 survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — many in wheelchairs and walkers — gathered Thursday to lay wreaths and remember the men and women killed on Dec. 7, 1941.

For some of the survivors, now in their 80s or older, it will be their last visit to the site of the attack that prompted America to enter World War II.

In a ceremony in which former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw gave the keynote address, survivors bowed their heads at 7:55 a.m. to reflect on the moment Japanese bombs began to drop.

"America in an instant became the land of the indivisible," said Brokaw, author of the book The Greatest Generation.

Brokaw said the attack "wounded and outraged," all of America and galvanized the nation to make the sacrifices necessary to support the war effort at home and defeat Imperial Japan overseas.

"There are so many lessons from that time for our time, none greater than the idea of one nation greater than the sum of its parts," he said. "It was the end of innocence and the beginning of greatness for your generation."

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle thanked those who lost their lives.

"We honor the survivors and their families who are with us here today," she said.

The veterans, most in Hawaiian aloha shirts, were honored with prolonged applause at the ceremony. Nearby, some of the ships sunk that day 65 years ago lay in the harbor, rusting and covered with moss.

Don Stratton, who was aboard the USS Arizona in 1941, boarded a boat with other survivors to the white memorial straddling the sunken hull of his former ship. They honored the dead with wreaths and leis.

"Sixty-five years later, there's not too many of us left," Stratton said.

The Arizona sank in less than nine minutes after a bomb struck the battleship's deck and hit its ammunition magazine, igniting flames that engulfed the ship.

The Arizona lost 1,177 men, 80% of its crew, more than any other ship. Altogether the Japanese killed 2,390 Americans and injured 1,178 others.

Twelve ships were sunk and nine vessels were heavily damaged. More than 320 U.S. aircraft were destroyed or heavily damaged by the time the invading planes were done sweeping over military bases from Wheeler Field to Kaneohe Naval Air Station.

For the purposes of history, survivors were asked to record their stories for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Fund. The stories are being made public at, said George Sullivan, director of the fund.

The most moving moment for Lee Soucy, 87, who survived the torpedoes that struck the USS Utah, was when the guided-missile destroyer USS Russell sailed by the podium. Sailors in dress whites were lined along the Russell's rail, saluting.

"All the other guys thought it was the greatest recognition they had ever received," he said. "I had to hold back tears."
I blogged yesterday about the changing nature of warfare, paying attention to sense of shared sacrifice earlier generations of Americans demonstrated and our leaders demanded. I noted particularly the seeming heightened moral clarity of the WWII age cohort -- Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation" -- although I suggested that the label unfairly diminishes the contributions of all Americans to this country's greatness. That said, I am troubled by the relativism in our approach to combating today's enemies. The threats we face in global anti-Americanism are amorphous yet dire, and the U.S. population today needs to develop a moral imperative for toughness if we are to meet future challenges to U.S. leadership and global prosperity.

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