Last Modified: Friday, December 06, 2013 10:31 PM
At 7:55 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bomber and fighter aircraft swooped down on the U.S. Navy ships, Air Force and Army bases in their infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The toll was more than 2,400 Americans killed and 1,100 wounded. The Navy lost four battleships sunk and four damaged, as well has many other ships, aircraft and army facilities destroyed or damaged.
On this day, the 72nd anniversary of the event, we observe National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. It is a day to remember the dead from that attack, as well as honor the Pearl Harbor survivors who have died since then and those who are still with us.
It is also a day to remember the high price that is paid when we let down our guard as a nation, and a day to renew commitment to vigilance and preparation.
Herb Weatherwax, 96, one of the few Pearl Harbor survivors, was recently interviewed by The Associated Press in Honolulu and his words of wisdom are reflective of his generation.
He volunteers at a memorial for the USS Arizona, a battleship that sank in the 1941 Japanese attack. The retired electrician is one of four former servicemen who lived through the aerial bombing and now greet people at the historic site.
People like hearing stories directly from the survivors, Weatherwax says.
“This is my reason to continue to keep going,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s time for me to say goodbye.”
Weatherwax was a 24-year-old Army private living in Honolulu when he heard loud explosions the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. He saw the sky fill with black smoke and heard anti-aircraft guns firing. When he turned on the radio, he learned Japan was bombing Oahu and all military personnel were to immediately report to their stations.
He saw the USS Arizona enveloped in flames and the USS Oklahoma turned on its side as he headed to his post. Twenty-one ships were sunk or heavily damaged that day while 320 aircraft were damaged or destroyed. Some 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed.
At their peak in the early 1990s, 21 survivors volunteered, says National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez.
Meeting a survivor enlarges or enhances the experience of coming to Pearl Harbor for many, Martinez says. It can give people a tangible connection to meet someone who was on site when the bombing happened.
Their numbers are dwindling, however.
The three others who remain are also in their 90s. During the week, Weatherwax is joined by Sterling Cale, who was a hospital corpsman assigned to the shipyard dispensary in 1941, and Alfred Rodrigues who was stationed at the mouth of Pearl Harbor. On the weekend, USS Pennsylvania survivor Everett Hyland greets visitors.
The world is still a dangerous place, and if history is any guide, it always will be. The ultimate lesson of Pearl Harbor is “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Remember Pearl Harbor today and its important lessons.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.