Today we commemorate December 7, 1941, the date which has lived in infamy. My family was not directly affected by the attack on Pearl Harbor; we had no relatives in the military , and my parents were young children. However, as an American, all were affected by the attack, including those of us that were not born yet, for it set events in motion that changed the world and made history.
I have had two unique opportunities to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. My visits were unique because they were a bit outside of an ordinary tourist’s experience. My first visit was in February, 1999 with a group of U.S. Army chaplains. The site was closed to just our group, and since they were all chaplains of various faiths, we said a brief, multi-denominational prayer for the souls of the more than one thousand men entombed beneath the memorial, as well as the many other men, women, and children who died that day. To stand on that spot in total silence while surrounded by men who were in service to both God and country, all offering up a prayer for the dead, was inspiring. The impact of that day and the horror of the sinking ships is felt in full force on that site. Sometimes sights, smells, or sounds will cause us to remember an event. For me, whenever I hear the sound of a lanyard clanging against a flagpole, I remember this day, because that was the only sound as we prayed and remembered in silence.
My second visit to Pearl Harbor was in December, 2002. I was there with a group of government employees, and there were so many of us in the group that we had a VIP visit to the memorial. We stood silently to remember. A few days later, we had the great honor of being at the 61st memorial ceremony on December 7, 2002. The speaker for the ceremony was John William Finn, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism on that fateful day. But Mr. Finn, still vigorous at the age of 92 (now 99), insisted that he wasn’t there to talk about “me, me, me or I, I, I” – he was there, he said, “to remember my shipmates” as the heroes of that day. What a privilege to have heard Mr. Finn recount his experiences.
President Roosevelt’s famous “infamy” speech (SOURCE: HyperWar) concludes with these words before he asks Congress to declare war on Japan:
But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.
Today, let us remember the 2,350 who died that day, which included 68 civilians and 1,177 sailors stationed on the Arizona. Let us also remember the men whose lives were changed by this day as they were inspired to fight for America!