COLLEGE STATION, Texas – It was a somber day Wednesday at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, where hundreds gathered to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
The “day that will go down in infamy” hits especially close to home for former President George H.W. Bush, who was a senior in high school at the time. The gravity of what happened is what compelled him to temporarily forego his college plans and join the United States military.
“We gotta do something about this,” recalled President Bush, in an op-ed article published by USA Today.
Bush went on to become the youngest naval pilot of his time, commissioned just a few days before his 19th birthday. Then on September 2, 1944, the plane he was flying came under enemy fire and was hit. The former president managed to safely bail from his burning aircraft and was later plucked from a raft, in the middle of the sea, by the USS Finback, a lifeguard submarine.
More than seven decades later, vintage WWII-era planes, just like the one Bush used to fly, soared over the crowd of spectators as part of the Pearl Harbor commemoration at his library in College Station, Texas.
A moment of silence was also held at 11:55 Central time, or 7:55am in Hawaii, the exact moment the attack on Pearl Harbor began.
The afternoon program included a panel, moderated by Brit Hume of Fox News.
More than 20 World War II veterans were among the distinguished guests in attendance at the Bush Presidential Library – including former Senator Bob Dole and Aaron Cook, the sole Pearl Harbor survivor in Wednesday's crowd.
“I don't really know how to describe it,” Cook said.
Cook was just 19 at the time, and was working as a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy, stationed on Ford Island. He remembers seeing the planes swoop in and unleash bombs.
“In retrospect, I'm glad I'm here. And I'm glad the country has survived,” he explained.
Now in his 90s, Cook said it’s important to pay homage so that future generations can understand the significance of that day and a valuable piece of history simply isn’t forgotten when he and his fellow troops are gone.
“People just don't seem to be responsive. Kids go to sleep when you're talking to classes and they don't even know what Pearl Harbor is. They just don't realize how important it is,” he added.
To help educate and further inform the public about the significance of Pearl Harbor, a special exhibit has been set up at the President Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which will run through the end of this year.
“We began working on this about six months ago,” said David Jones, CEO of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.
“Twenty-five years ago President Bush spoke at the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, as the sitting president, and we have a copy of the speech in our auditorium here on a continuous loop,” Jones said.
There also is a digitally re-mastered version of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed speech for spectators to view, with the words of comfort he offered to stunned-Americans after the attacks.