Seventy years ago Dec. 7, the nation was shocked by the news from Pearl Harbor, a place many Americans had never heard of before.
They had been assured by aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the isolationist, anti-war movement, that "the Japanese had such bad eyesight that they could not fly aircraft effectively."
Yet without declaring war, Japan had launched a massive air attack on the ill-prepared U.S. naval forces in Hawaii. The damage — 2,402 Americans killed, four battleships sunk, 188 aircraft destroyed — wouldn't be known publicly for weeks.
But the idea that the USA was headed to war — an unpopular position on Dec. 6 — had become an undisputed reality.
Just as they had 70 years ago, the appeasers said we should stay out of foreign entanglements. That did not stop the Japanese from attacking us.
The battleship USS Arizona was destroyed and sank when a bomb pierced the ship and blew up in the ammunition magazine. The blast killed 1,177 sailors, of which 1,102 remain entombed in the ship.
Some of the Arizona survivors paid tribute to their fallen brothers.
The number of Pearl Harbor survivors is dwindling.
Now among a handful of local veterans who lived through the attack, (Edward) Borucki has carried the torch for Pearl Harbor for decades. He organized the Pearl Harbor Attack Veterans, served as commander of several American Legion posts and has appeared in uniform wherever and whenever anyone cared enough to invoke Pearl Harbor.
The William Norris School in Easthampton named a flagpole in his honor. Borucki was there when officials named a new bridge over the Oxbow the Pearl Harbor Veterans Memorial Bridge in 2004.
“I’m trying to get them to toss a wreath off the bridge on Dec. 7,” he said.
Borucki fears that Dec. 7, 1941, has already been replaced by Sept. 11, 2001, as the day most Americans remember as infamous.
...Even the photographs, like the one from 1961 showing the late Massachusetts Gov. John Volpe signing a proclamation in honor of Pearl Harbor veterans, have faded. Borucki is one of the few Massachusetts residents on that list still alive.
Nonetheless, Borucki will don his ancient uniform and tell his story to visitors in sunny Hawaii once more today. If he doesn’t, there aren’t many other who can.
“People don’t remember,” he said.
And America must never forget what those who were there went through, and those who were lost.
Others who may not have been around do their part to remind Americans of that day, such as the Tora, Tora, Tora group of the Commemorative Air Force Gulf Coast Wing.
I was fortunate to have grown up in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1970s-80s when the organization was based there. As part of their airshows were reenactments of World War II air battles such as Pearl Harbor. A recent example of this show (video below from Sacramento in September 2011) was one way this day became more than just a date in a history book.
If you're near an airshow where the Tora Tora Tora group is appearing, check it out for living history.
The boyhood best friend of my maternal grandfather was a survivor of the USS Nevada, and received the Navy Cross for his actions on the ship that day in fighting off Japanese airplanes, and for saving many lives that day. It was a privilege to know that man. I wrote about him here in 2007.
A list of Pearl Harbor Commemoration Day events in Hawaii is here.