Never Forget: December 7, 1941

It's been 72 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, But for survivors, the events of that day are seared into their memory, making the experience fresh and vital.

This is important because the number of those who lived through the attack gets smaller every anniversary.

Each of us probably has some tie to that black day of American history, to Pearl Harbor, although the lines may be faint and the chances of tracing it directly dim with each year.

On the day Japanese bombers struck the battleships lined up like sitting ducks in Pearl Harbor, my then 16-year-old father was hunting on the farm on Sunshine Bottom (a narrow strip of Missouri River valley just south of the South Dakota line).

"I came home about dark and Dad told me the news," my father said.

Eventually, he would join the other 16 million Americans who served in World War II.

On that same day about a hundred miles or so away, my then 12-year-old mother looked up to see her mother react to the announcer over the battery-powered radio in the sitting room. She remembers my grandma running in tears to the field to tell my grandpa.

And just like the terrible news delivered to so many other American families throughout the way - 416,837 killed or missing - it hit close to home.

The Pearl Harbor disaster was one of the first truly national tragedies. The technology of radio helped spread the news so that within hours, virtually everyone in America knew what happened. That sense of sharing stood us in good stead as the tremendous sacrifices demanded by victory were borne with remarkable equanimity.

It was a different America then:

My family's connections back to the war that defined the "Greatest Generation" in Tom Brokaw's phrase don't carry with them remarkable and harrowing tales, although I believe the evidence of valor is implicit. The tales may be there, in shadows of history or memory, I don't know.

But that's OK, for these are my connections to great events.

What I think is important is for each of us to remember the sacrifices great and small that the "Greatest Generation" made, and to honor those who served then and in each of the other times the country has called.

We owe them to never forget.

We are losing 2,000 World War II veterans every day. By remembering Pearl Harbor, we grant each of those who pass on a little bit of immortality. They, and their accomplishments will remain alive as long as we keep faith with history and remember them.

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