History & Culture / Opinion

December 7, 1941 – Reflecting on Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941. Only a few of military age that day remain with us, but some still do. Not long ago, I interviewed a lady alive on that day. She remembers it “as if yesterday.” The day we spoke, she brought it back. The “day that will live in infamy” – when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor – is worth recalling.

When we spoke, she was 100. On December 7, 1941, she and three girlfriends were sharing an evening together with their boyfriends, a dinner in a home. Life was simple, paced, of a nature that allowed slow conversation, getting to know people well, quiet appreciation for the future. They all had an appreciation for peace.

She had been encouraged to go to college, not by her mother but by her father, along with a local minister, and – curiously enough – a Chinese exchange student. China was a free country then, Republic until 1949, tormented by civil war but not Communist.

All this was rather remarkable for a woman – who also counted among her experiences seeing Charles Lindbergh take off from Roosevelt Field in 1927. What many thought insanity, trying to cross the Atlantic in a light plane, she and her father admired. When he survived, her family watched his parade. At 100, she confided “he was cute.”

But on another fateful day – when the Japanese killed 2,403 Americans and plunged our nation into war – many sat at Sunday dinner. They had no suspicion the day would end at war. Much of this psychology – being at peace and expecting peace – rings true today, even with fewer Sunday dinners, less easy conversation and perhaps appreciation. But what happened next surprised me.

When news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, no long discussion ensued, nor any fear in their boyfriends’ voices. Yet none of them had any doubt. America was at war. Immediately, all four boys rose from their seats, dispersing to enlist, prepare, devote themselves to America’s defense.  At once? Yes, they were solemn, but all rose from their seats.

She explains how people thought then. This was not bravado or because of who they were with. It was something innate, instinctive, resolute, unhesitating, as if deep within each boy that question – would they fight if needed? – had already been asked and answered.

How old were they? Early 20s. Across the nation, many were teenagers. Freedom – and they knew WWI had been hard on families – was seen as a burden, defending our nation a duty.

They held the conviction to their bones. Did all four boys deploy? Yes, they were all “1A.” What did the girls do? “We all cried, because it was frightening.” What did you personally do? Here, her story takes another unexpected turn. She gave up Cornell, nearly finished with an MS in chemistry – to marry the love of her life, one of those boys, named “Bob.”

What happened… to those boys?  Knowing 16 million signed up, 450,000 never came home, war lasted four years, my eyes focused on her. “Well,” she says with a sigh, “they all came home, all married the girls they were with that night, all raised families.”

She was hard-pressed to explain what the day meant. It changed her life forever. It changed everything for everyone forever. America descended into war, war rationing, letters home, unwelcome letters from the War Department, enormous loss, cost, worry, and horror.

She lost respect for Lindbergh, antiwar and by that time an apologist for neutrality. She could not abide that, whatever his prior courage. She notes there are times in life you must stand and be counted. That was one.

Her young husband? He served until it ended. They had more than half a century together, children, grandkids, great grands. Her degree? Never finished, taught elementary school. Yes, December 7, 1941, changed everything. Regrets? Some. Consolations? Yes, “thousands of great grandchildren…,” she laughed, “and a peaceful life in Maine…freedom, friends, family.”

I wanted her perspective on another issue. She had lived so long, wit crisp. Can America survive what buffets us now? She thought about that, but not long. Yes, indeed she is sure – yes.

Does she think young people would rise again? She has great grandchildren, knows their world, watches the news. She admits she does not like the mobile phones, email, loss of focus, faith, or centrality of family. She sees the contrast with her younger days, slower paced with friends. But would they? Yes, they would.  If America needed our youth to stand again, she is convinced they would.

Those who know their history, who appreciate freedoms, who pause for a quiet dinner – in short, those who understand how special America is – would again push back rise to defend America. She is clear – and has the perspective few, by definition, have. She believes they would.

Pondering that last observation, durability of patriotism, appreciation for America’s uniqueness, and willingness of the young to stand for freedom, I admit my wonder, sometimes my doubt. Do waters still run that deep? She looks me straight in the eye and lets me know – they do.

She has no doubt. She has lived longer than I have, so perhaps is right. She remembers December 7, 1941, clearly – how young people felt then, how much they knew and did not know, how they loved peace – how they stood at one to defend freedom when threatened.

Yes, it was a day of “infamy” and it “changed everything” for her, for America, and for the world. She agrees it is important not to forget that day…She never has, hopes we will not.

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Philip Hammersley
1 month ago

Do ANY of today’s students know ANYTHING about Pearl Harbor? I doubt it. They DO know a lot about 57 genders and how all our Founders were atheists or deists and how we must bow down before other countries because we don’t deserve to be the world’s # 1 super power! We’ve already had a moral “Pearl Harbor.” When will the “sleeping giant” wake up and do something about it?

1 month ago

RBC, thanks again for a great article. It is now very important to let young folks and children about this nation’s past history and not let it be distorted by the imbeciles that are trying to change the past for their evil agendas.
I was stationed three times at Pearl during my career and it was always an honor to RENDER HONORS TO THOSE WHO STILL LAY AT REST in the USS ARIZONA and USS UTAH.

1 month ago
Reply to  Max

You are so right – As Ronald Reagan said, “love of freedom, and what it takes to defend this nation, is not passed down through the bloodstream … it takes teaching, loving the nation enough to teach the next generation, who will teach the next, who will …” Semper fi. RBC

1 month ago
Reply to  Max

Thank you Max! Fully agree. And i thank you!

Henry D
1 month ago

As this President further weakens this country with the depletion of our oil reserves necessary for DEFENSE, out spending former administrations, and allowing illegal enemies to enter our borders with ease, we are easily becoming the target of a SECOND December 7th to any one of our numerous enemies!

Stephen Russell
1 month ago

Next Pearl Harbor:
Missiles, rockets from ships, subs & planes assult Oahu
Gone no more Oahu

1 month ago

Real next Pearl Habor:

ICBM’s armed with nuclear warheads that can reach us within 30 minutes of them being launched. Literally anywhere in the United States. Our current capability to repel such an attack is limited to literally a handful of defensive missiles.

Hypersonics armed with nuclear warheads. Current defense: NONE according to our own military. Another instance of ignoring a potential threat and hoping it never happens.

One to 3 nuclear EMP weapons detontated 60 to 90 miles above the United States, effectively destroying our entire national electrical infrastructure. Thus grinding the entire economy to a halt in an instant. No lights. No cars or trucks. No TV or radio. No trains that rely on electricity for anything. Commercial planes rendered inoperable. All semiconductors fried in everything. We go from 1st world nation to 3rd or 4th world nation in a single day. Current defense: Aside from military hardware hardened to withstand such an attack, it is zero. We just keep kicking the can down the road.

The advantage we had after Pearl Harbor was that the attack was limited in scope and we had months to years to rebuild our defensive capabilities. Not to mention that being separated by vast oceans still mattered back then based on the weaponry of the day. No such advantage exists today given how modern warfare is far faster and far more devestating in scope.

1 month ago
Reply to  PaulE

You are correct with your comment.

J. Farley
1 month ago

This was an attack by truly evil people, and America met the challenge and prevailed, and like those evil men on 9-11-2001, evil to the core and it is my belief that had those event hit us today, America does not have leaders with the desire or the will to meet the challenge and America would try to appease the enemy and blame America.
Without a change soon, America is a nation in decline!

1 month ago
Reply to  J. Farley

A nation divided is in decline, & that is one of Communism goals in 1950s. USA must become united again & quit fighting with each other.

David Millikan
1 month ago

Excellent article.
December 7, 1941, is a VALUABLE LESSON that should NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.
I walked down and read every name on their tombstones when I was in Pearl Harbor during Viet Nam War
and a lot of names were Unknown but NOT FORGOTTEN.

1 month ago

Let us not forget, there is a big difference between the emotions of an attack on American soil or that of its allies than supporting a civil war in a country that hates us more than the opposing side but are willing to tolerate us to some degree to get us to fight their war with our young men, guns, supplies and money. Don’t ask our youth to fight and die in a war or conflict that’s not directly related to the defense of America or its allies ever again. Isolationist, no. We need allies and trade but we’re not the global police force or the global red cross and should stop acting like it. We need to stop acting like Democrats and Republicans and start being Americans. Americans who are for the people and not the party.

Michael J
1 month ago

So much for that day of infamy. History is only as fresh as the people who lived it. Once that generation is gone, so will the memory of their sacrifices. This once great nation once rallied around country, patriotism and pride. Those too are memories.

1 month ago
Reply to  Michael J

Very true, that was 81-years ago & so many people alive on Dec 7th have passed. It is important for all generations to read & know the history of WWII. I recommend reading a book “THE GREATEST GENERATION” by Tom Brokow with a history of Americans that went thru the Great Depression and WWII. It really gets my attention on what my Grandparents & Parents went thru in order for a person like myself to grow up in the 1950s & 1960s in a world like “Leave It To Beaver”

1 month ago

An excellent article on a subject that a lot of the MSM has seemed to have lost interest in. Back then after the attack, the nation rallied and there was no shortage of young men who volunteered to serve in the armed forces to stop those responsible. How the country has changed over so little time. One has to wonder in 2022 what the response would be from the general public to a similar attack by China on American naval forces or even some American territory. Hopefully we never have to find out.

Lieutenant Beale
1 month ago

They truly were “The Greatest Generation”

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