Editor’s note: A version of this editorial first appeared in The Daily Star on Dec. 7, 2009. It is reprinted today in honor of Pearl Harbor Day.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Those words were spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in addressing a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Japan. More than 2,400 Americans were killed and nearly 1,200 were wounded from the early-morning bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in Oahu, Hawaii.
Today marks the 72st anniversary of the attack that propelled the United States into World War II. With each passing year, the memories of Pearl Harbor become less prominent within our national consciousness.
Among those listening to the president’s words locally was Perry Shelton, a 23-year-old tool and die maker at the Bendix Corp. in Sidney. Shelton heard the president’s speech on the radio in 1941, not knowing that he would be called to military service himself just a few years later. While serving in the U.S. Navy on a destroyer bound for the Pacific Ocean, Shelton met a young sailor who had survived the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
“He said he was one scared son-of-a-gun,” Shelton told The Daily Star in 2011. “He wouldn’t talk about it much. He said when the war came to an end he was going to put the oars over his back and start walking until he found the place where nobody lived. He wanted to get as far away as he could.”
It’s not likely that the young sailor Shelton met is still with us today. It’s estimated that there are fewer than 2,000 Pearl Harbor veterans still living; and the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association folded at the end of 2011.
Just as today’s young generation will forever remember 9/11 and earlier generations recall the Apollo moon landing and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, an earlier generation was marked by the shocking news, delivered by radio and newspaper, of Japan’s sneak attack on America.
Until Dec. 7, 1941, Americans were still wondering if and when the United States would join the war in Europe. The attack made it impossible to wait any longer. By the end of the war, more than 400,000 Americans would lose their lives in the conflict.
The memories of those battles, like memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor, are in danger of being lost as age claims more World War II veterans.
It is left to us, the subsequent generations, to ensure their sacrifice is not forgotten.