Before 9/11, there was Pearl Harbor
It was an early Sunday afternoon. The date was Dec. 7, 1941, when from the small table radio in our farm family kitchen came these shocking and devastating words: “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin from Washington, D.C. … The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air.” From that point on, during the afternoon and evening, there were numerous and continuous news flashes. The news reports were devastating, the lives lost were horrendous and the destruction was catastrophic. As a TRUE and GENUINE leader, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the following day, “it was a day which will live in infamy;” the United States and the world was fortunate then to have had such dynamic leadership.
It was a surprise attack. The attacking planes came in two waves: the first hit its target at 7:53 a.m., the second at 8:55. By 9:55 it was all over. By 1 p.m., the carriers that launched the planes from 2,274 miles off the cost of Oahu were heading back to Japan. Behind them they left chaos, nearly 3,000 military and civilian personnel were killed and many more were left seriously wounded.
There were 188 destroyed American aircraft and a crippled Pacific Fleet that included 8 damaged or destroyed battleships. And then, three hours later, Japanese planes began a daylong attack on American facilities in the Philippines. Farther to the west, the Japanese struck at Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand in a coordinated attempt to use surprise in order to inflict as much damage as quickly as possible to strategic targets. Although stunned by the attack at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers submarines and, most importantly, its fuel oil storage facilities emerged unscathed. These assets formed the foundation for the American response that led to victory at the Battle of Midway the following June and ultimately lead to victory four years later over the militaristic totalitarian Empire of Japan.
It was through the efforts of countless brave military and civilian men and women, that the torch was carried and victory was declared in 1945 over unscrupulous totalitarianism. And indeed, throughout our history of American exceptionalism, we are a country of the free because of such generations through the ages of brave men, women, and children. We live today in the home of the free because of the brave.
The story of America has been written, in large part, by the selfless and noble deeds of hard-working and dedicated men and women committed to liberty and justice in a free society. Our American veterans and service personnel along with dedicated civilians of all ages and races are truly endemic of that ranking. We pay tribute to all of them for their virtuous defense of our homeland and liberty, and thank them for their sacrifice on our behalf. They are truly world class heroes.
In the past century alone, through two world wars and the long, tense struggles of the Cold War, and on the front lines in Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Iraq, and elsewhere … our brave men and women in uniform have and are now risking their lives. They risked all they had to protect U.S. interests, assist our allies, promote peace, and advance our ideals. They fought our enemies on foreign shores, at sea and in the air to preserve freedom.
They had no second thoughts as to what had to be done. Thanks to their extraordinary record of brilliant service, more people now live under freedom and democratic rule than at any other time in history. And as Ronald Reagan said, “America has a God given calling” to be a beacon of freedom and hope for the world. He often mentioned that “freedom is not reserved for a noble few, but for all humanity.” His vision of a “shining city on a hill” serves as a reminder of the awesome responsibilities of such a great nation to extol freedom and liberty as the universal right of all people.
President Kennedy once said, “Democracy is never a final achievement. It is a call to untiring effort, to continual sacrifice and to the willingness, if necessary, to die in its defense.” We give thanks to the veterans and to the current members of our armed forces for showing that willingness. Whether serving on bases and in ports at home or deployed across the globe, they have endured hardship and danger to protect our nation and to defend freedom-loving people around the world. Their deeds of commitment and valor bind us in our past, inspire us in the present, and strengthen us to meet the demanding challenges of the future. George Patton was known to have said “it is wrong for us to mourn the loss that died in battle. Rather we should thank God that such individuals had lived.” Truly, all who have given so unselfishly for our country, either military or civilian, will forever live in the hearts of a grateful nation.
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is a resident of Gowanda and Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at SUNY Fredonia.