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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

REMEMBERING OUR HEROES--DEC. 7, 1941 by Cheryl Pierson


<b>I wrote this blog a couple of years back to commemmorate what President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared "a day that will live in infamy"--December 7, 1941. I won't be blogging here again until December 28, and I know this is early, but I wanted to share it with everyone so that we will never forget. As time passes, the men and women who lived through it are dying off. In my lifetime, they will all be gone, those warriors who went to battle for our freedom in World War II. During all the holiday preparations, please take time to remember with me what took place in our country on that day, a little over 70 years past.

Driving down one of the busiest streets of Oklahoma City today, I noticed a flag at a local business flying at half-staff. It was the only one on that block. I’m sure many people wondered about it.

But I remembered.

December 7, 1941…the day the U.S. was brought into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.

Through the years, my mother recounted tales brought home from “over there” by her relatives who enlisted. She talked also about the rationing here at home—how difficult it was to get needed items, and how impossible it was to get luxuries. She was 19 when the U.S. entered the war—just the very age of so many of the young men who were killed in the surprise attack on December 7, 1941. Was there a man of that age who didn’t rush down to sign up for duty after that fateful day? Many of her fellow students and co-workers did just that, and during the course of the next four years of war, many of them were lost.

My father tried to sign up, but his lungs were bad. He was turned away. I think he was always ashamed of that, even though it was through no fault of his own. Until the day he died, he had one of the most patriotic hearts I’ve ever known. Secretly, when I was old enough to realize what that might have meant, I was glad that he had not had to go to war. I knew that would have changed everything in my world.

Being as close as it was to Christmas made the deaths of the men at Pearl Harbor even more poignant. Just done with Thanksgiving, looking forward to the Christmas holidays to come, so many young lives snuffed out in the space of minutes. Watching the documentaries, hearing the old soldiers that are left from that time talk about the horror of that day, and of war in general, brings tears to my eyes.

I’m always amazed by the generations that have gone before us, and how they stood up and faced adversity when it was required of them. Being human, as we all are, the unknown was just as frightening to them as it is to us. We tend to forget it, somehow, because of the luxury and comforts of our modern lives that we have become used to. We have let ourselves become numb, in a way, and what’s worse—we have forgotten.

We have forgotten what the generations before us sacrificed for us, their future. We have forgotten how to honor the memory of those men and women, and what they did, individually and collectively.

I counted flagpoles the rest of the way home from that one, lonely half-staff flag—about a mile and a half to my house. There was only one other pole along that route that flew their flag half-staff in memory of that day seventy years ago. A day that ended in smoke, and fire, drowning and death…and war.

Something peculiar occurs to me. I have been alive during the time when the last surviving widow of a veteran of The War Between The States died. I have been alive during the time that the last survivor of World War I died. There are not that many survivors left of World War II. Yet, our schools pass over these huge, world-altering events as if they are nothing, devoting a page or less to them in the history texts. Think of it. A page or less, to tell of the suffering, the economic impact, the technological discoveries, and the loss of humanity of each of these wars.

No wonder our society has forgotten the price paid by those who laid down their lives. When we don’t teach our children, and learn from the past, history is bound to repeat itself.

President Franklin Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941 as “a day that will live in infamy.” That statement, spoken so boldly, believed so strongly, held so close to the hearts of that generation, is only true as long as the next generation, and the one beyond that, remembers.

<b>Well, many years have passed since those brave men are gone
And those cold ocean waters now are still and they’re calm.
Well, many years have passed, but still I wonder why,
The worst of men must fight and the best of men must die.

From “Reuben James” by Woody Guthrie



I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you ever written a WWII story? I've often wanted to, but have never done it. Maybe one of these days...

24 comments:

  1. One of the first stories I ever wrote was about Marines in WWII. My university English teacher thought it was good, but I never even thought about sending it anywhere. Don't know were it is now.

    I know a lot more about the lead-up to Pearl Harbor now. And I know that attacks without warning were done long before the one at PI. If I remember correctly, the US attacked Manila during the Spanish-American war without warning (well, before expected).

    From the Japanese point of view, the US had cut off all exports of oil to Japan, which seemed to the Japanese to be an act of war. The planes from Nagamo's fleet were seen by offshore vessels and by observation personnel, but the news never reached Pearl Harbor. I can't go into all the flubs that made the attack so tragic (that is, a lot of information on the Japanese fleet was there, but ignored or not passed on). So in a way, we made the attack more than it should have been. So many men didn't have to die, perhaps, but hindsight always seems to be sharper than foresight.

    I was born a month before Pearl Harbor. I remember my B24 bomber pilot uncle coming home in his uniform. I killed banzai charge after banzai charge from a foxhole dug in the lower end of our 8 1/2 acre home plot. I used an old car jack as a machine gun.

    Japan wanted to tell America "hands off, Asia is our part of the world" by it's attack on PI, but it didn't work out that way. There were no plans to invade the United States. There were no plans to invade Hawaii. Midway was the strategic line, which then stretched across the Marshals to the Carolines and on across the Pacific. The last line of defense by the Japanese was redrawn time and time again after Douglas McArthur began his "return."

    It was a tough war. In many ways, however, it was also a war of independence for the colonies of western powers in the Pacific and Asia. With WWII, the age of Imperialism died.

    I am proud of the men and women who served in that war, as I am proud of all who have served before and since, and who serve now. We should take every opportunity to thank them and see that they are cared for and appreciated. Thank you for the post, Cheryl.

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    1. Chuck,
      I am so proud of all our servicemen and women from every war and 'conflict' that we've ever had. I remember so well my parents talking about WWII a LOT. That was the biggest event for that generation--almost unimaginable, since WWI had already happened and naively, many people thought that was the end of war. It's a disgrace the way our government treats our veterans. The conditions in the veterans' homes and hospitals are just unbelievable--certainly not fitting for our heroes, many of whom gave up every chance at the life they'd envisioned in service to their country. Wish you could find that story.
      Cheryl

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  2. I'm so glad you posted this message about the World War II. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I imagine the entire country was horrified that such a thing could happen. In my mind, World War II was the war we could not allow the allies to lose. Can you imagine a world run by dictators like Hitler? I shudder to think of it. It dismays me that the younger generation doesn't seem involved in history or give importance to the freedoms they owe to this Great Generation.
    My dad served in the Navy in World War II. He spent most of it patroling the Oregon coast.
    As important as it was to the history of our country I am amazed at the lack of knowledge the younger generation has about this turning point war. When I was triaging in the ER one December 7th, I did a little survey just for my own curiousity and asked each person I triaged if they knew the importance of the day's date of December 7. When the day ended, after probably 100 people triaged, only two people knew it was the day Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered into World War II...an elderly gentleman and his wife. I was flabbergasted at the ignorance of young people and young adults in this country.BTW, they no longer teach cursive either. So today's youth will not be able to read old letters in the family trunk. It also slows down their ability to take notes in school. I taught my niece how to read and write cursive myself. I guess one day families will just text each other across the dinner table and spend the time discussing fashion and movie icons--that is, if they still have family dinners. It's sad, isn't it? A magnificent blog, Cheryl.

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    1. Sarah, that's amazing that only 2 people knew what Dec. 7 was. I make a point of asking my kids (yes even now, and they roll their eyes at me!LOL) "What happened today in history?" I'm so glad you taught your niece how to read and write cursive. I can't believe schools have deemed that's not necessary, but many states have gone that route now. That's how I write everything--in longhand! All my books, stories, everything first are written in a notebook, then typed into the computer. When my kids were little, I talked to them about history in all kinds of ways. One thing we did was, I'd put on a Johnny Horton (best of) CD and they knew every word to Battle of New Orleans, Sink the Bismarck, etc. And then of course, on the Marty Robbins CD we learned about the Alamo. LOL Love and gratitude to your dad for his service, and to all other service men and women through the wars of our nation. Yeah, you are so right--the family dinner is going to be a thing of the past before long, too. That is very sad. Thanks so much for your kind words, Sarah--I appreciate you!
      Hugs,
      Cheryl

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    2. We're few and far between, Charlie! Glad to know there's "another one" out there!

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  3. Don't even get me started on modern schools' neglect of history. Or the fact that not teaching cursive is going to affect future historians, who will have to learn it from scratch in order to do research. But I have to commend Charlie on his very concise and accurate explanation of what the Japanese called "The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." And I must point out that "Washington Crossing the Delaware" was on his way to attack the British and their Hessian troops by surprise... on Christmas night.

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    1. I know, Troy. That business of how our schools are run these days makes me understand why more and more people are homeschooling now. Nothing is taught "in-depth" anymore--it's just a gloss over so everyone can pass and that's not right. I agree--Charlie did a fantastic job of talking about the history behind the history. LOL Nothing new about surprise attacks--Geronimo was a master of it, and many of his battle tactics are still taught in military schools. Of course, it's always worse when it's the "enemy" attacking YOU. LOL And no matter what, I'm sure that our world would not have taken the shape it has through the years had that war come out differently in any way. The sneak attack by the Japanese was something that brought our country together again in a way that even WWI hadn't seemed to do, after the Civil War. It "gelled" us again.
      Cheryl

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    2. Troy also has to remember that Crossing the Delaware (notice the one black man in the boat? His name is Prince Whipple, the father of all black people who bear the name Whipple [well, that may be an overstatement]) was done "during" war while the Japanese attacked a nation they were not at war with (of course a comedy of errors prevented the Japanese embassy from delivering the declaration of war before the attack occurred). Manila was attacked after war was declared on Spain, but was done "before" the Spanish expected us. And yes, Pearl Harbor unified the country like never before, I believe, while vilifying the Japanese (we always vilify the enemy. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb were vilified, too. It's interesting to me, now, that few novels are written about WWII. I remember reading the Cherry Ames series when she was a nurse for the armed forces. Do we not want to remember our history?

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    3. I remember being in middle school and reading several books about WWII--Cherry Ames and there was one about a pilot, can't think of his name, but I think it was a series. Oh, I wanted to be a nurse, too, after I read those Cherry Ames books! I found a couple of them at a yard sale a few years back--of course, I had to buy them. LOL I found a children's book, oddly enough, written about WWI. I bought it because it was called something like "CASEY OVER THERE" and my son's name is Casey--he was the right age for it. Gorgeous pics by Mike Wimmer, a Chickasaw artist here in OK. I've never seen a book about Korea. I did find a book in a thrift store about a soldier and his dog in Viet Nam. It's not in very good shape, but I bought it anyhow. It's the only book I've ever seen for young readers that mentioned Viet Nam, much less took place there--it's for middle schoolers or upper elementary level readers. I don't think that it's not wanting to remember our history, as much as it is not placing any importance on it and taking time to talk to kids about it. Teachers have to have a love for it to be able to instill that in their students.

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  4. A beautiful tribute to the men who fought and died at Pearl Harbor and in
    WWII. Thank you for reminding us of this day we should never forget.

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  5. Thank you, Linda. I guess my generation will be the last that will actually remember their parents talking about it firsthand. My uncle was in Korea, and of course, those vets are disappearing fast, too.
    Cheryl

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  6. So much of history seems to consist of a list of battles fought and wars won and lost. A few events rise above the general mayhem. For the USA, we have Gettysburg for the nineteenth and Pearl Harbor for the twentieth century. For the twenty-first century we have 9-11-2001, but the century is barely begun.

    "You had to be there."

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    1. Gerald, I think so much of that "date memorizing" goes back to elementary school and the idea that that's how children had to learn history. My eyes were opened to how wonderful history could be by a coach, my junior year in high school--American history. Of course, we were still memorizing dates and battles and such, but he infused his teaching with little interesting "tidbits" about some of the historic figures we were studying about that actually made them come alive for me, rather than just being something to memorize. My wish is for all kids to be able to get that spark--to be that enthused over something like history or reading or the English language--or heck, even about learning in general. But it's hard when you have the combination of so many parents working to make ends meet, day to day life being so hectic, and all the "more exciting" alternatives--sports, video games, laser tag, etc. You're right--this century has barely begun, and it started off with the terror of 9/11. I'm hoping that things will get better, but it seems that our patriotism is dying a slow, apathetic death with each new generation. It's very sad. Thanks for coming by and commenting.
      Cheryl

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    2. My interest in the Far East began in high school as well. Our history teacher showed us battle film after battle film about the Flying Tigers who were based in China. I'm sure he taught us other things, but those films are what sticks.

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    3. Charlie, I also had a history prof in college who was sooooo interesting. He knew it by heart, needed no notes to lecture from and was always telling personal things about the people he was talking about so that we could relate to them being HUMANS, not just people from the past.

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  7. The personal stories of struggle and tragedy and triumph set against the backdrop of conflict like WWII are also what fascinates me.

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    1. Me, too, Gerald. I think that's one reason I was so fascinated with Gone With the Wind--I read that when I was in 7th grade, and I had seen the movie at one of the theaters in Oklahoma City--they brought it back to the big screen for the 25th anniversary or something. It was a big to-do--we wore dressy clothes and white gloves. Anyhow, that allowed me to imagine the people's looks in the book, and their characteristics, and with it all being set against the backdrop of the Civil War, it made it all come alive as I was reading, because I had the visual of the movie to remember. That's the minute I could put it together--people in history were real. Not Margaret Mitchell's characters, of course, but I still remember that moment of the light blinking on. LOL

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  8. I live near Mt. Diablo in Northern California. Each year on December 7th they have a ceremony at the top with WWII survivors. We took the Boy Scout troop one year. They tell about the day at Pearl Harbor and about the war. At dusk they light the beacon atop the mountain and it is on all night to commemorate the event.

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    1. Jill that is just beautiful. And what respect that teaches the Boy Scouts, too! Well, soon there will be no one left to tell the tale, will there? Very sad. Thanks so much for sharing this.
      Cheryl

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  9. Cheryl, thank you so much for posting this! My dad was a Pearl Harbor survivor on the USS Raleigh one of the 1st ships attacked. I grew up hearing the stories. I lost my dad to a heart attack about 20 years ago. I have hooked up with children of those survivors and we remember our fathers. I am actually blogging about him on Dec. 7th on www.venturegalleries.com on that day. I hope you will go there or run over to my Facebook Fan Page, Patty Wiseman Fan Page and catch it there. Thank you so much again, for helping all to remember that day of infamy. The memory is very dear to my heart!

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    1. Patty, you are very welcome. My dad was 19 when the war began. He had had bad lungs his whole life, but went down to apply, thinking they'd take him for sure. They didn't, and he always regretted it--he wanted to go so much. I'm so glad your father survived that day--a true hero. I just found out after posting the notice on FB that one of my childhood friend's dads was a Pearl Harbor survivor! I never knew that until today. I only knew him after he'd become a Baptist preacher. I'm going to pass your info on to her in case she might want to come by your blog on Dec. 7. I'll be there, too!
      Cheryl

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  10. Cheryl,
    I have performed and spoken to many WWII reunions and they have a special place in my heart. I always remember one gentleman talking about how everyone said they were such brave young men. (He was a pilot in the Pacific) He said "We weren't that brave. We were just a bunch of scared shitless 19 year olds who were doing a job". That has always epitomized those soldiers, they believed they were just doing their job. I could go on and on...once they started talking, the stories they told, I hold in my heart. I am one of the lucky ones.

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    1. Dori, you really are one of the lucky ones, for sure! When I think of how young most of them were, and ARE, even in today's battles, it breaks my heart. For most young men, their innocence hasn't been completely stolen by the time they're 18 or 19--but when you go to war, it's snatched away in an instant. I can't help but think how traumatizing that has to be--forever.
      Thanks for commenting.
      Cheryl

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