Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor 68 Years (and Two Days) Later


Monday was the anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor drawing the United States into World War II and bringing the war perilously close to the continental United States. On December 8, President Roosevelt stood before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Japan.



Of course, the declaration passed 82-0 in the Senate and 388-1 in the House. Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-Montana) was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration. Rankin would later vote present on other World War II declarations.

What followed the December 7 attacks changed the course of United States history. Beginning to emerge from the Great Depression, the United States was thrust into a war it did not choose (despite what the conspiracy theorists say). It would emerge on the other side an economic and military superpower. Along the way in between the moment of attack and the moment the treaty was signed aboard the USS Missouri, America lost much in the name of freedom.

The United States lost around 416,800 soldiers, sailors, airmen and military personnel. Another 1,700 American civilians perished. Worldwide almost 22.6 million people died in the conflict with another 34.6 million civilians killed. Of course this is including not only those that died in the Pacific Theatre but also the war in Europe and Africa.

It's hard to even imagine a conflict on that scale these days. It's also amazing to think about how this country and its allies won the multi-faceted and multi-campaigned war.

Some of those that saw action are still around. Individuals like Southside Democratic Club President Larry Ryan who currently sits on the Center Township Advisory Board continue to be active in politics and in helping to keep our memories alive. Unfortunately, like World War I veterans a generation behind them, the number of veterans from World War II continues to decline. The "Greatest Generation" is slowly dying off and taking the history of the conflict with them. According to the VA, 900 World War II vets die EACH DAY! I checked the Indianapolis Star obituaries Tuesday, and I quickly found five obituaries listed citing service in WW II.

My grandmother actually died on the 55th anniversary of the United States' entry to World War II. While she didn't serve in any official military capacity, Twila Easter was born on January 9, 1910, and she suffered through the war as the rest of the country did...with ration books and worry while struggling to raise a young family with my grandfather. A few of her brothers were fighting in the war, and, to the day she died, she always hated hearing the Christmas song, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" because it reminded her of that time and feeling helpless with her brothers, my great uncles, fighting in the war.

Thankfully, her brothers all came home in one piece. Other families were not so fortunate to have such good luck. Many a family was torn apart during World War II as fathers, brothers, and others perished in the name of the preservation of the United States and our way of life.

At home, the war effort turned this country into an economic giant as women went to work doing everything from making the tanks to roll through Eastern Europe or playing baseball to keep the homefront folks entertained. My paternal grandfather, Henry S. Easter, Sr. worked as a tool designer for International Harvester and helped with wartime production on the homefront.

Families weren't the only ones sacrificing, the great athletes of the time also went to war putting their careers on hold. Baseball greats like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, household names, among others, went to bat for their country instead of the Red Sox or the Yankees. Can you imagine Peyton Manning or Tom Brady hanging up their cleats for four years to fight for America? Hard to even put your head around.

But, it all started on the fateful day, December 7, 1941, in the then-United States territory of Hawaii.

After the war, Japan has become one of our closest allies and an ecoonomic superpower in the world, but it has never become a military power again due to the treaties we signed. The Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, became a largely ceremonial figure after the war. He passed away in 1989. The United State President, George H.W. Bush, attended his funeral.

December 7 should be a day that we always remember. We should remember it for not only what happened at Pearl Harbor, but what happened after the Japanese attack there. It was a day that has lived in infamy, but it also is a day to remember that no matter how hate can flow and what enemies can be made that, eventually, wounds heal, divisions repair, and friendship can ultimately triumph over tyranny.

If you get a moment this week, find a veteran and tell them thank you. You get bonus points if you can find a World War II veteran. Thank them for fighting so hard to keep us safe and free.

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