Remembering Pearl Harbor, Before The Memories Are Gone

The thoughts of World War II should not be allowed to pass gentle into that good night. Will you help preserve them?

There are defining moments shared by all humanity, benchmarks in time burned into the collective memory. Among those, there stands one day, one point in time when life changes forever. In the lifetime of my parents and grandparents, that moment came on December 7, 1941. The "day which will live in infamy" plunged America headlong into World War II. No one would ever be the same.

The attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor happened less than 15 years before my birth. On a peaceful Sunday morning turned deadly, almost 2,500 Americans died and much of our Pacific Fleet lay in ruins. It was the defining moment for the generation which preceeded mine.  The memories and passions it evoked became part of my generation as well, year after year, through stories at the dinner table and pilgrimages to the cemetary.

Now the story of Pearl Harbor, and the horrible war, is told mostly in history books. So goes the march of time. All things must pass, to quote George Harrison (born during WWII in Liverpool, a city half destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs.) And as they pass, they leave a fading trail, until finally all that remains are the photos on the wall, and the generational ties. 

Kids who gather with the family hear the stories of Great-grandad rolling across France with Patton's Third Army. They may roll their eyes and wonder why they should care... much as our great-grandchildren will someday roll their eyes in impatience when we tell them of that long-ago day when evil men flew airplanes into the heart of New York City and Washington D.C. to kill thousands of innocents.

Lives bent and broken for years deserve to be chronicled. Heroes -- and weren't they all, even in whatever small way? -- deserve to be honored. The World War II History Museum encourages anyone related to, or friends with a veteran of The Big War to make an oral history of their participation. Their legacy, their sacrifiices, will live on for future generations.

The reminders are there. We pass by every day, right here in our home town. The Coliseum downtown was built as a memorial to the many who died in the First World War. The Four Freedoms monument stands in honor of President Roosevelt's eloquence in the last State of the Union address before the Pearl Harbor attack.

The LST-325 docked in Evansville serves as living history, both for the for the workers who built it and for the troops it bore. Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm... our city has monuments to them all, paying tribute to the loyalty and sacrifices which preserve our liberty.

We know of the WWII-era LST's and P-47's built in shipyards and factories right here in Evansville. We know of the shortages of food, clothing, and gasoline. Future Evansvillians and future Americans deserve to know of the days of uncertainty and fear, the days of a common purpose, the days of hell -- and to know that in spite of those obstacles, our country held strong, until hell was finally brought to its knees. 

Teachers, encourage your students. Clergy, encourage your congregations. Every story deserves to be told.

The number of those whose lives were scarred by Pearl Harbor shrinks year by year.  Each morning, there are 900 fewer World War II veterans than there were the day before. We notice it especially every December 7. But the men and women of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" lived with the unity of a common enemy, and a resolve we can only imagine. Those of us who survive them will never know that determination, that single sense of righteous purpose.

At least I hope to God we never do.

Rick Allen

LINK: Creating an oral history of your veteran