Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remembrance -- Pearl Harbor 65 Years Ago

In the midst of a war lasting longer than our involvement in World War II we should take time to remember the day, 65 years ago, that America was dragged into that war by a savage and unprovoked attack. Americans responded with a sense of sacrifice and purpose. The objectives were clear, the cause was noble, and the enemy easy to identify. Young men were approached on the streets and asked why they were not in uniform. Young women like my mother, sometimes in defiance of their parents, flocked to the factories and to the offices of a rising military bureaucracy. My mother worked for the Navy Department in ugly temporary buildings set up on the National Mall, and returned home every night to a boarding house for respectable single young women at 1830 K Street, NW in Washington, DC. The Washington suburbs exploded into a flurry of building, both government offices and housing, for the hordes of job seekers and government workers flooding into the area. Ordinary citizens, scout troops, and civic organizations had victory gardens, collected metal for the war effort, saved pan drippings for use in defense factories, donated clothes and toys to military and refugee families, hosted military people on temporary assignment, or sheltered refugees from the Battle of Britain and orphans from Europe. Paying income taxes was considered a patriotic duty which would help win the war. The ranks of the armed forces and merchant marine swelled with young men (and sometimes women) from all walks of life and all backgrounds. Ivy League scholars, Hollywood producers and actors, professional athletes, and business people donned the uniform proudly, and stood with the miners, farmworkers, ranchers, factory workers, teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and others from all parts of the class spectrum.

Looking at the present situation, when it comes to sacrifice ... hmm ... not so much. Oh, some people sacrifice, but they're the same ones, over and over. They're the dedicated people who've joined the armed forces for a variety of reasons -- some to serve their country, some to get an education and training, some to find adventure, and some because they were looking for purpose -- and who are now prevented from leaving when their time is up by stop loss orders and broken promises that they won't have to go back again, or at least not anytime soon. They're the ones whose pain and suffering I have heard at times dismissed or minimized because "they volunteered." Our leaders talk about supporting the troops, and everyone has a yellow magnet on their car, but try discussing raising taxes or sacrificing anything to pay for the war. Try discussing services for returning vets, some of whom are horribly wounded and traumatized. Try talking about the need to provide services for the families of our military, whose providers and parents, sometimes both parents, have been to war as many as three or four times.

Maybe we will be able to talk of such things now that the leadership has changed in Washington. In the meantime, then, we should remember Pearl Harbor and its survivors who gathered for their five year reunion.

Here's their story.

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