Surviving sailors may age, but the Pearl Harbor story lives (column)
Bombs were bursting in air.
Torpedoes splashed into the shallow harbor waters and slammed into ship after ship.
Bullets shredded everything in their path as they raced to seek out death.
Yet through it all, our flag was still there, as were the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The story of Dec. 7, 1941, may be turning 72 years old this week, but it forever will remain a story in American history and importance that must be shared, honored and most of all, remembered.
Any young sailor who was 20 years old on the day Japanese warplanes attacked American forces in Hawaii on that fateful day is 92 if he’s still with us today. Only a handful of veterans caught in that bloody beginning of World War II for the United States still survive. However, they continue to be the most visible reminders of an event that on many calendars clearly is marked as Pearl Harbor Day.
But once they’re gone, who will keep this important story alive?
That’s the emphasis of this year’s commemoration, as national park officials and historians at Pearl Harbor turn to social media and a focus on unity with the theme “Sound the Alarm,” which examines how thousands of Americans and not just veterans responded to the attack.
The National Park Service will be hosting an interactive broadcast via wireless streaming to share this year’s ceremonies. It’s in part to reach more veterans who can’t visit Pearl Harbor in person, and to reach more civilians who need to hear and feel a connection to the story of what happened in this battle.
Designated sites cooperating with the park service and Veterans United will feature the ceremony, but park officials also are hoping that social media will play a role in stoking interest among younger Americans about why Pearl Harbor Day is important to remember.
Like the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on Sept. 11, 2001, or the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Pearl Harbor is an event that no American alive then will ever forget. The “Sound the Alarm” theme touches on how communication of the news from Pearl Harbor instantly changed the nation.
Today, we have instant access to information via Internet. Not so in 1941, as it was hours after the attack before most Americans learned what had happened to the U.S. Pacific Fleet guarding our western shores.
It was a frightening time for America.
Of the more than 90 ships at anchor in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the primary targets were the eight powerful battleships anchored there on Battleship Row, especially since no aircraft carriers were at port.
Within only minutes of the attack beginning early that morning, seven of the eight were hit by bombs or torpedoes while moored along the shoreline of Ford Island. The USS West Virginia sank. The USS Oklahoma rolled over and sank. The USS Arizona took a direct hit in its forward ammunition magazine and exploded, killing 1,177 crewmen, the greatest loss of life on any ship that day.
The USS Tennessee, USS Nevada, USS California and USS Maryland were among the many ships hit.
The attack also hit land bases in Hawaii, as well as inflicted civilian casualties. There were 188 American aircraft destroyed and 159 more were damaged, most on the ground before they could take off.
The American death toll for the day reached 2,403, including among them 68 civilians, many of whom were killed by our own anti-aircraft shells improperly fused and landing in the city of Honolulu.
We learned many lessons from the attack, both in the practical sense of how to militarily protect our nation and fight back, and in the moral sense of how to come together as Americans to rally around the flag of freedoms and values we still treasure today.
Yes, we’re quickly losing the few remaining Pearl Harbor veterans we have still with us from the so-called Greatest Generation. But we’ll have their story of courage and endurance forever more.
It’s up to us and future generations to keep that story alive, and so we should.
Troy Turner is the opinion editor for Digital First Media’s Thunderdome newsroom based in New York. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.