“Good Morning NIMITZ, thank you for being here. Thank you for joining me as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of that solemn event that forever changed the world, when our nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor.
For many of you, such an event may seem like ancient history, after all, it was three-quarters of a century ago and it was half a world away. What relevance could it possibly have on our lives today, right?
Well, for the next ten minutes or so, I’ll tell you exactly how it affects your lives today, and the lives of your children tomorrow, and the lives of coming generations. Let’s step back in time for a moment and imagine we’re there, in Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941.
That morning, as dawn broke over the Hawaiian Island Chain, events were set in motion that would forever change the world. In Hawaii, it was a peaceful Sunday morning, the start of another beautiful day in Paradise. Much of our sleepy Pacific Fleet rested at anchorage in the tranquil waters of Pearl Harbor. On those ships, crewmembers were sleeping in, still in their racks. Those who were up and at ‘em were preparing their uniforms for dut,y or sitting down to breakfast. Others, who had got an early start that fateful day, were just concluding sunrise church services. At 0754 they could hear the drone of approaching aircraft, and at 0755, all hell broke loose.
As the first bombs fell and the torpedoes hit the water, our forces hadn’t yet realized that the aircraft they were hearing and seeing were the enemy. When they heard the first explosions, when they saw the first ships on fire, when they heard the cries of their shipmates dying, that’s when they knew. Carrier based aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy had caught us by surprise. The enemy force was bent on destroying the Pacific Fleet as it floated helplessly at anchor, they were determined to destroy our aircraft parked on nearby runways, and they were intent on killing our service members, wherever they found them.
Our military forces under attack that morning were caught completely off guard, but they did what they were trained to do, they mustered a brave defense and they engaged the enemy as best they could, with what they had. It was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism, even as it was a day of sacrifice and horrific loss.
By days end, a large portion of our Pacific Fleet lay sunk at the bottom of the harbor or was on fire. Our aircraft, the majority of our airpower in the region, was utterly destroyed. 1178 Americans were injured. 2403 Americans were dead.
As President Roosevelt said, it was a day that would live in infamy. It was the day that our reluctant nation woke up to the harsh realities of the times. It was the day that the Imperial Japanese woke the sleeping giant that was the United States of America.
Now, I’m no expert on the Good Book, I prefer to leave the sermons up to the experts like our chaplain who just opened up this commemoration with that fine prayer, but I’ve read about Gideon in the book of Judges, and how God needed a ‘Mighty Man of Valor’ to defeat an enemy and to free his people from tyranny. Thankfully our nation has always been blessed with mighty men and women of valor, who not only were willing to defend a nation, but able to take the fight to our enemies, even to the far corners of the globe and win.
In those tremulous days that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Lady Liberty needed her mighty men and women of valor to rise up and defend her, from all across America, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen and civilians stepped forward, ready and willing to fight. In the coming days the nation mobilized for war. Men and women picked up their rivet guns and went to work in airplane factories, they welded decking together in our shipyards, and they carried rifles into combat.
Our nation was unified in a single-minded effort to defend liberty, to fight and to win, and everyone wanted to do their part. From that day forward, we looked west with determined resignation, as we advanced forward, as we engaged the enemy, and as we drove across the Pacific, island hopping our way to victory in Japan.
And now, as we pause and reflect on those historic events that started it all, 75 years ago today, I personally can’t help but feel a deep sense of sorrow for the sacrifice, for the lost potential of so many young lives, but I’m inspired by their gift to the world, the gift of freedom. For it is no exaggeration to say that through their sacrifice, our nation was inspired to fight and to win. We rallied to the cause here in the Pacific, we as a nation, found it within ourselves to become more than we might have been. Through the effort of the greatest generation, we were given the gift of liberty and of peace. And the rest, as they say, is history.
For decades after the Pearl Harbor attack, until just a few years ago in fact, the survivors of the attack formed the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Their famous motto was a warning to all, and it went like this: “Remember Pearl Harbor…Keep America alert,” eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s a warning…to never be caught off guard again.
Yet despite their warning, almost exactly 60 years later it would happen again. Our nation would be surprised by another attack on the homeland, when, on September 11, 2001, terrorist high jacked airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, and flew them into our Pentagon, and flew them into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. On that fateful day, our nation mourned the loss of 2996 lives.”