07 Dec 2011
Seventy years ago, at exactly this time (1830 UTC, 8:30 am Hawaii local time), the tranquil morning over the calm waters of Pearl Harbor were brutally shattered by the second wave of 170 Japanese aircraft, following another 183 at 7:51 am when the Empire of Japan launched its initial attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The second wave of aircraft sank 9 U.S. Navy ships and severely damaged 21 others.
On that fateful morning, thousands of American men and women serving their country both in uniform and as civilians arose to face the imminent reality and brutality of war. On that fateful morning, 2,403 lives were lost, of which 1,177 were aboard the USS Arizona, which sank within seconds after an armor-piercing bomb detonated a forward ammunition compartment. Seventy years ago, our nation and our world faced a mounting crisis of epic proportions, one that would cost more human lives than mankind could bear to witness. Seventy years ago, men and women the world over were challenged to dig into the deepest recesses of their souls while shedding tears that could not fill the void left by the loved ones that were lost.
Tonight, as I looked across the waves from aboard this U.S. Navy ship, I could not help but feel the anguish of the sailors as they rushed to save their fellow brothers in uniform. Tonight, as I stood on the bow under the shadows of the bright moonlit sky, I could not help but hear the cries of the injured. Tonight, as I smelled the characteristic scent of the ship’s quarters that is identical to that of the USS Missouri still on guard in Pearl Harbor, I could not help but feel especially close to the officers who awoke to the madness around them. Tonight, as Old Glory waived proudly on the mast above my head, I could not help but think of the sacrifices that fellow American citizens – both military and civilian alike – offer each day to preserve the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution and the Republic for which it stands. The soldier defending the front lines, the student educating himself at school, the doctor attending to patients, the scientist making discoveries, the teacher assuring the continuation of our generations, the protester fighting for a cause, the police officer enforcing laws, and the civil servant upholding the respect of our institutions – all of these men and women – have each contributed equally to this dynamic place that we call home.
Only seventy years since that awful day, the Japanese Navy flag can often be seen flying on ships docked right next to the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. How times have changed. How ephemeral are even the most poignant events of passion. Time is the chisel of change. Time washes away the ills of history. Yet, time teaches us an important lesson about anger. Anger is futile, because all things change like the clouds in the wind. Even feelings as strong as the passions of war come and go with the sands of time. Objects of anger also change with time. As atrocious as events such as Pearl Harbor are in the history of this great country, and as deserving as we are to feel frustrated and angry, let us turn our anger not into hatred for any particular person or group because those change with time, but into a steady resolve to unite in the face of challenges. Let us remember the most brutal events in order to honor the sacrifices that others have made so that we can have liberty and be inspired to become better. Let us use these difficult moments to reflect on our common bond as we the people. Only then can we declare victory over the greatest war of all: the war against hatred.
Throughout World War II, the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt kept these words on a piece of paper in her pocket, which are now inscribed on a plaque at the shore of Pearl Harbor:
Dear Lord, Lest I continue, My complacent way, Help me to remember, Somehow out there, A man died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must, Ask and answer, Am I worth dying for?
Each day, as I walk to work at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, I am solemnly reminded of that infamous day seventy years ago. Even the outer walls of the Air Force’s 17th Operational Weather Squadron still remain scarred by bullet holes from the Japanese aircraft strafing of Hickam Air Force Base. How harrowing the experience must have been, and how sudden the face of mortality and hatred reared its ugly head.
So today, take a few minutes out of your busy schedule. Pause. And offer a silent prayer for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be afforded the opportunity to pursue justice over vengeance, freedom over suppression, and tolerance over hatred.
And ask yourself this sacred question…
“Am I worth dying for?”