Today at 12:55 p.m., a solemn ceremony, one attended by fewer and fewer of a select group each year, will take place five time zones away.
There, in Hawaii, it will be 7:55 a.m., about an hour after sunrise. A group of veterans, all in their 80s and 90s, will look up at the sky. They will see military jets flying overhead in a “missing man” formation.
A destroyer and a submarine will fire a salute to survivors and fallen service members. Those elderly veterans who fought in World War II will take the Walk of Honor.
They will be observing a day forever impressed into our American history. A day that, in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “will live in infamy.”
They will be remembering what we should all remember — the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, one in which Japanese pilots devastated America’s Pacific Fleet — the day the United States was drawn into World War II.
The destruction was staggering to a nation that felt the vast oceans protected U.S. territory from foreign attacks. After 90 minutes of hell raining from the sky, 2,390 Americans were dead. Another 1,178 were wounded. A dozen U.S. warships were sunken or heavily battered. More than 320 aircraft were destroyed.
While tensions had brewed between America and Japan for two decades, the United States was, at the time, more focused on Germany’s aggression in Europe. The Pearl Harbor attack ended any reluctance to become involved in a second worldwide war, and America’s Greatest Generation earned its name with blood, sweat, pain, sacrifice and bravery.
Seventy-one years later, there are still an estimated 1,000 Pearl Harbor survivors who are alive. Of those, about 50 are expected to attend today’s ceremony, along with other World War II veterans, family, relatives and dignitaries.
The number is dwindling each year, from about 100 last year and 200 the year before. This isn’t because of lack of interest, but these warriors have reached an age where their ranks are thinning. What enemy combatants could not do, nature can and does.
That is one reason it’s so important to remember these freedom fighters, who did not give up. They took the beating, stood up, shook off the dust and took the fight right back to the enemy, preserving our nation, our freedom and our way of life.
Pearl Harbor is a testament to need for vigilance, and the reaction of the Greatest Generation is the example for how Americans can band together, endure and triumph. They are lessons that should never be forgotten.