Three-quarters of a century have passed since the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, a human lifespan, give or take. The men and women who served on that “date which will live in infamy” almost are all gone. A 2014 estimate put the number of Pearl Harbor survivors at 2,500 or so. The youngest of them today would be in their 90s.
We have little time left to fully honor them.
There are five living sailors left from the original 355 survivors of USS Arizona, which exploded in a fireball when its forward magazine detonated. That catastrophic attack killed 1,117 crewmen, most of them instantly, and 900 souls remain forever interred in the hull of the Arizona. Oil still seeps from the battleship’s submerged wreckage, an iridescent sheen that some say are the tears of the ship itself.
The attack on Pearl Harbor claimed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians. Another 1,178 were wounded.
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Remembering Pearl Harbor isn’t some trivial tribute. It should serve as an American history lesson that needs to be taught over and over.
Millions of Americans vividly remember the terror and fear of the moment; Dec. 7 is a signal date for them. The bombing, on U.S. soil, altered their lives, just as surely as it changed the lives of the heroes who served at Pearl Harbor and in World War II.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will travel to the commemoration of the attack this week. It’s proper that he will attend. He will be the first Japanese prime minister to do so. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima last year. The visits are a symbolic and necessary punctuation mark on the war that sacrificed tens of millions of people, one that, for the United States, started 75 years ago at 7:48 a.m. Honolulu time with an alarm that would shatter the world for the next four years and for many years beyond.
Abe’s visit, and Obama’s, signal to the world that we must find some way to end war. Remembering Pearl Harbor isn’t some trivial tribute. It should serve as an American history lesson that needs to be taught over and over.
When all the wreaths are laid and a bugler playing taps sounds the final notes at the commemoration, all nations should continue to work tirelessly to preserve the fragile freedoms we now enjoy, and the peace that too often eludes us.
Because, as Pearl Harbor taught us, nothing can or should be taken for granted. We should always be on alert, be it on our own shores on a balmy morning day in the Pacific or elsewhere around the world.