I was a decade away from even being a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. I really have no true remembrances of the “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. My remembrances come from listening to my father and his buddies talking, history books and movies.
My father, a single, twenty-six-year-old at the time, did what many patriotic young men did and with several friends headed to the Marine recruitment center to join up…only to find out he was 4F due to a birth defect he didn’t even know he had. Determined, he attempted to enlist in the Navy and Army but was turned down. Two years later, the now married twenty-eight-year old, would receive a postcard that began “Greetings, your friends and neighbors….” Drafting a married, twenty-eight-year old missing an entire row of ribs and vertebrae they attached to should tell you how dire the situation was in late 1943.
I remember sitting as a family in front of our black and white television on a Sunday evening, December 3, 1961. Walter Cronkite was the narrator of the CBS documentary program, The Twentieth Century. On this particular night, the Sunday prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, we sat as a family watching and listening. The episode was “The Man Who Spied on Pearl Harbor” and Cronkite’s distinctive voice narrated the black and white action scenes, some made as the attack occurred, most staged for propaganda use during the war itself, as we remembered Pearl Harbor…and as I remember that night in 1961.
Over the years my thirst for knowledge about Pearl Harbor and my father’s war has caused me to read, watch or listen to most every available program, book, movie or interview about Pearl Harbor and World War Two. Thankfully I had access to the History Channel when it actually aired programs about history rather than programing about Alaskan truck drivers or pawn shops. I continue to remember Pearl Harbor, the men who lived it, died during the attack, the ships that were sunk, some later resurrected…and my father who was thousands of miles away at the time.
I have never outgrown my love for World War Two movies seen repeatedly over again, especially those taking place in the Pacific Theater, the theater my father said he didn’t fight in. “Which wave did you go in on Daddy?” “Son, I was so far away from the fighting the nurses went in before we did.” His admission did not deter my interest…or my pride. My favorite movies were movies involving Pearl Harbor on the periphery. Not quite the center stage like “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Instead it was movies like “From Here to Eternity” or movies starring John Wayne, the John Ford classic “They Were Expendable” and my absolute favorite, Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way.” My favorite line in a movie filled with them was uttered by Henry Fonda, portraying Admiral Chester Nimitz, “On the most exalted throne in the world, we are seated on nothing but our own arse.” Good words to remember. I’ve already checked today’s programing. If I want to watch any of my favorites, I’ll have to download them from something other than my TV.
I hope we continue to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and the generation characterized by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation”. We need to remember the sacrifices they made in our last righteous war before the concepts of good versus evil became so blurred during the Cold War. I watched a news story night before last on a one hundred and four-year-old Ray Chavez, the oldest known survivor of Pearl Harbor. He has worked for three years with a strength trainer to insure he would be strong enough to fly to Pearl this year. Ray Chavez boarded his plane this past Saturday and I could not help but cry. For him, for the ones we’ve lost and a bit for a father who wasn’t even there.
For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf