December 7-10, 2006 - A Nation Remembers

December 7th, 1941 and 65 years later, “A Nation Remembers”. That was the theme of the 65th anniversary of the commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th at the U.S. Naval Base in Honolulu. I was fortunate to be there for the week and participate in three events.

It was extremely emotional to observe and visit with some of the 400 Pearl Harbor Survivors who made the trip to Hawaii and hear their stories; I’m not ashamed to admit I used a lot of Kleenex. Among the 400 were 4 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. While many of the military survivors shared stories of true heroism with us, they generally ended the story by saying “we were just doing our job”.

I attended a seminar that featured four women who witnessed the events 65 years ago. They talked about not believing the island was under attack by Japanese warplanes and then when the reality sunk in, the fear and uncertainty they all felt. One of them was a U.S. Army nurse, 29 year-old Anna Busby who was based at Tripler Army Hospital and who worked tirelessly for hours treating the wounded sailors and marines. Now 94, she ended her story on a positive note, saying that two baby boys were born at the hospital on the night of December 7th.

Another panelist, Joan Rodby, 10-years old and an elementary school student in 1941 talked about the dramatic change and the constant fear that the Japanese would invade following the air attack. She talked about wearing gas masks in school, nightly black-outs, building an underground bomb shelter, rationing of food, gasoline and other essentials and a 1941 Christmas without lights, trees and gifts.

At 7:30 A.M. December 7th I sat on the Pearl Harbor Navy Pier with 4,000 people looking across the harbor at the Arizona Memorial that marked the beginning of World War II and, now docked a few hundred yards away, the U.S.S. Missouri where the surrender marking the end of the war was signed in 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

Keynote speaker Tom Brokaw, author of “The Greatest Generation”, delivered an emotional speech paying tribute to the Survivors as well as to all the veterans of past and current wars by concluding...”you can hate war, but you must always honor the warriors”.

This was the last reunion of Pearl Harbor Survivors because many of them will leave us in the next 5 years and for those still living, travel to Hawaii would be difficult. Their universal wish expressed many times during the week is that we never forget Pearl Harbor and December 7th, the day that changed the world forever. The greatest Christmas gift we can give this “greatest generation” is to honor that wish.

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