Today, December 7, 2011 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on the United States Naval Base and Army facilities at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaii marking America’s formal entry into the world war that had been raging in Asia beginning in the early 1930s and Europe since 1939.
There will be an official ceremony in Hawaii to commemorate this historic event near the memorial to the USS Arizona, the “pride of the Pacific Fleet” that was sunk during the attack and to this day is the final resting place of 1,177 sailors and marines.
And across America there will be smaller ceremonies in military cemeteries, VFW Halls and at war memorials.
Among those attending will be the remaining members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. They are in their eighties and nineties and although they walk a little slower now and their hair has long since turned gray, when they talk about their experience at Pearl Harbor on that “day of infamy,” the look in their eyes is as clear as if it happened just yesterday.
I know because I recently had the honor and privilege of meeting some of them and having them on my radio program.
Meet Colonel Sam Clower, Pearl Harbor survivor and 34-year veteran of the United States Army and Air Force.
Sam was born and raised in Paducah, Texas where his parents had a small cattle ranch.
In 1939 as the war clouds in Europe darkened, Sam followed the news of the world carefully on the radio at the café across the street from where he worked. He had a good job at the time that paid him $100 a month.
He figured that sooner or later America would be drawn into the global conflict and he wanted to be properly trained so that if war came he would be ready to defend his country.
So he left his job making ice cream at the local creamery and traded his $100 a month job for $21 a month as a buck private in the U.S. Army.
On December 7, 1941 he was stationed at Wheeler Field in Hawaii. At 7:55 am he saw the first wave of Japanese planes fly over as they began the attack and he knew that his country was at war.
When I asked him if he ever doubted the country or its leaders or if he thought America would lose the war, Sam quickly answered with an emphatic “no!”
As I probed a little deeper as to why he was so confident those 70 years ago, he simply said, “We had faith in the country.”
Over the years I have spoken to many of the Greatest Generation some who served overseas and some who served on the home front and when I ask them the same question I asked Sam, I get the same response.
They had faith in the country.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
In today’s America, we don’t seem to have that kind of faith anymore. We seem unwilling to take that step without seeing the staircase first. Then when we see the staircase we make excuses not to take that first step.
But on December 8, 1941 when President Franklin Roosevelt declared, “With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God”, our parents and grandparents took that leap of faith not knowing where it would lead but confident in themselves, their nation and their leaders.
And in doing so they saved democracy.
It has been said that 9/11 terror attacks were our generation’s Pearl Harbor.
Like Pearl Harbor it initially rallied America to a common cause. Flag sales went up and could be seen everywhere. Chants of U-S-A! U-S-A! were heard at sporting events.
But there were no calls from our putative leaders for sacrifice from the citizens to fight this war on terror. No draft of young men to go to war. No rationing of things like meat or sugar or gasoline.
Wars are expensive and yet there was no request for any financial sacrifice from any of us to raise the necessary revenue to fight this war.
We could have it all. We could have war and tax cuts. We could have war and more profligate spending by Congress. We could have war and go into national and private debt not caring how it would be paid back.
We could have war and go on about our lives as if there was no war since we had an all-volunteer military to do all the fighting which we could conveniently watch from the comfort of our living rooms on HDTV’s like it was a video game.
And it wasn’t too long before the partisan armies of our political system, retreated to their foxholes and once again began lobbing insults at each other.
Worst of all as things got tough, we lost our faith in our country and its ability to do what is necessary.
America is built on faith. Faith in ourselves, faith in each other and faith in our ability to overcome all the obstacles thrown in our path.
As we begin the long farewell to the Greatest Generation, we need to rediscover that essential faith.
It won’t be rediscovered in any law Congress passes or any political campaign. You can’t buy it on the Internet. It needs to come from inside each of us.
But time is running short.
Not for us but for those who sacrificed their youth to keep Old Glory flying--folks like Sam Clower and all the others who served in World War II.
When they pass into the great beyond they should be able to tell the 1,177 men who went down with the Arizona that fateful December 7, 1941 and all the others who never made it home that not only did they not die in vain but that America is in good hands.
We owe them at least that much before they take that final step up the staircase that leads to the ultimate reward for their faith--Heaven.
Patrick Dorinson blogs at "The Cowboy Libertarian" and he can be heard on a radio program with the same name on Sundays, from 3-5 p.m. PT on KFBK radio.