By Terence Farrell
We often read of tales of courage and valor performed by American patriots throughout our proud history. Sometimes we forget that real people, our neighbors, friends and family members, made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
A few weeks ago I visited Pearl Harbor for the first time. I was anxious to see the site of the attack that catapulted the United States into the midst of World War II. I wanted to know how we, as a nation, are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the date that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would live in infamy.
After all of these years, there are few survivors of the Japanese attack that are still alive. I sought out first-hand accounts from eyewitnesses and purchased a book, A True American, by Sterling Cale, a pharmacist’s mate, second class on December 7, 1941. The book told of Cale’s valor as he dove into burning water to save some of his fellow seamen. He also described the horrors of recovering the dead bodies of American sailors for weeks on end. I could only imagine the horror experienced by those who died entombed in the capsized ships such as the USS Arizona, which is now the site of a moving memorial, or who suffered fatal burns in the flaming waters surrounding the numerous bombed ships.
During my tour I also met Stan, an 82-year-old man from Syracuse, New York. Stan was seven years old on that Sunday. His father called him to the family radio to hear the first reports of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Stan said he didn’t quite understand all of what was being said, but he knew something important was taking place by the way his father reacted.
Indeed, Stan was correct. December 7, 1941, was momentous.
The official website for the 75th anniversary is titled Honoring The Past, Inspiring The Future. There are a number of official events scheduled this year, including a Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade scheduled to begin at Fort DeRussy at 7:00 p.m. and to included F-104 Starfighter jets and bands and floats. Those in the parade will pay their respects to the Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans, active duty military and their families.
Pearl Harbor holds special significance to those in Chester County and in Hawaii. During my visit, I met with Riki Hokama, a fellow elected official. Riki is the equivalent of a commissioner and represents the Lanai District on the island of Maui. He is of Japanese descent, and he called December 7 “a sad, tragic day.” Riki also said the attack “showed all that Hawaii was going to play a key role in the United States.”
World War II also gave Hawaii a national hero, Daniel Inouye, according to Riki. Inouye served in the United States Army and was wounded. He later became a U. S. Senator and was President pro tempore of the Senate for two years until he died in 2012. Inouye was the highest-ranking Asian American politician in our government.
Today, Pearl Harbor remains an active military base and a National Historic Landmark. As I toured the numerous sites, including the WWII attack submarine Bowfin and battleship Missouri where the surrender papers ending World War II were signed, I remembered more recent history. While watching black and white film of the actual bombings at Pearl Harbor, my mind went almost instantly to color video of the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 – different places, different times, but great similarities.
Freedom is not free and fellow citizens have sacrificed their lives for our cherished way of life throughout our nation’s history.
As for the remembering Pearl Harbor on the 75th anniversary of the attack, I recall reading, “To those who fought in the war, to those whose lives were affected by the war, their children, grandchildren, and each succeeding generation, Pearl Harbor is a place where people from far-flung corners of the world can come together in peace to honor the memory of the fallen and to celebrate the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.”
Terence Farrell is Chairman of the Chester County Board of Commissioners. He can be reached at Commissioner@TerenceFarrell.com.