This week, one of the most famous dates in our country’s history hits a major milestone.
On Wednesday, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a time that, as President Franklin Roosevelt correctly predicted during a speech to Congress, “would live in infamy.”
Nearly 2,500 sailors and soldiers were killed and close to 1,300 others were wounded that Sunday morning in 1941. Almost 20 ships were damaged or destroyed, including eight battleships. Many of those who died were on the U.S.S. Arizona, which still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor Bay, the final resting place of 1,102 sailors. Twenty-three Kentuckians who perished in the attack were on that ship.
It took less than two hours for the entire event to unfold, a relatively brief time that heralded in the start of World War II for the United States. Congress declared war on Japan the following day, and added Germany and Italy three days later.
Only a small number of those who were there at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, are with us now. The number of living survivors likely measures in the hundreds, with less than 10 from Kentucky. The number of survivors who had been on the U.S.S. Arizona when it was attacked has dropped to six, meanwhile.
For the Greatest Generation, that day resonates as much as President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 does for me and Sept. 11, 2001, does for those who are younger. It is one of the world’s true pivot points.
While many of us were not yet born when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred, that does not downplay its significance in our lives. I recall my parents and others of that generation telling stories of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath and how that one event changed their lives forever. They told of a Christmas filled with chaos and the effort everyone made to make sure it was a blessed Christmas.
I hope you will take at least a moment to recall what was lost that day so long ago, and what we have gained from those who selflessly fought for our freedom overseas and who made countless sacrifices here at home. We owe them a great deal of gratitude.