“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy…”
Three quarters of a century.
World War II has always been a part of my life. As a student of history I soaked up my grandfather’s stories about serving on PT boats in the Pacific. Through the big bands I played in, I met veterans from all walks of life and helped raise funds to build the National WWII Memorial.
When I first gained an interest in World War II, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a mere 40 years in the past. Seventy-five is hard to fathom. For my grandfather, it was a lifetime.
Obviously, there have been, before and since, attacks and wars fought on American soil. In comparison, in 1941, Hawaii had yet to become a state. In fact, as news came in about the attack, many had no idea where it was, and yet, few moments in our history have been so monumental.
In the years between the world wars, the United States had begun to find its footing on the world stage. U.S. involvement in World War I, just two decades earlier, had helped decide the “war to end all wars.”
But as is so often the case, the attack on Pearl Harbor proved that a war to end war was a false hope, and thus the final chapter of our nation's innocence. The fight against imperialism and fascism, and the following cold war with the Soviets, put to rest that America could isolate itself from the world.
As of May, the VA says there are less than 700,000 WWII veterans left, a number that will drop dramatically in coming years.
So let’s take a moment to think about what has been famously called our “Greatest Generation.”
This was a generation born into the optimism of the roaring ’20s. They suffered through the Great Depression. And at an age where many of us and our children graduate high school and choose colleges and careers, they took up arms to stand with their backs against the abyss and save the world from evil.
They came out the other side profoundly different people. They fought communism. They reached for the moon. They raised a generation of children, and their children's children, to live in a better and safer world of unmeasurable opportunity.
It is important to remember as we raise the next generation, as we fight the urge to hover and be overprotective, just what we as a people were capable of at such a young age. As we complain about the end of days because of who was elected president, or who wasn't, it is important to be reminded what the true face of evil looks like, and what to do about it.
So we have a promise to keep. To be bigger than we are, to be better. To give something of ourselves. This generation made the world safe for us and built our nation into what it is today, and now, as they pass the baton, it is our job to continue to move forward.
They say that those who choose not to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and if the books teach us anything, it is that few people learn from history. But all is not yet lost to history. Veterans are still out there. Talk to them. Listen to their stories. Get it down on paper. Or record it for many of the oral history projects that continue to be compiled.
Sixteen years ago, I wrote (paraphrasing slightly) these words:
"Those generations fought and sacrificed so the later generations didn't have to. As one member of Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation told him while he was researching that book, perhaps their children were spoiled a little, but that was what was wanted.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember, freedom doesn't come cheap....
… It was a cost paid not just for that generation, but for the generations that followed, and prospered, as we strove to achieve a society in which there would be no more war.... I ask something of each and every individual -- pause and reflect on those who sacrificed everything for the cause of freedom. Those who came home to a new world, and those who never returned.
Think about the price of freedom.
Honor their memory."
That still holds, not just on the anniversaries and holidays, but whenever we have the opportunity.
Chris Six is Managing Editor of the Fauquier Times, Gainesville Times and Prince William Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @christophersix1