Remembering Pearl Harbor still significant 70 years laterIt happened early on a Sunday morning in December, 70 years ago. The United States of America had an outpost — a naval base in the Pacific — nestled in an idyllic setting called Pearl Harbor, within its island territory of Hawaii.
By: By Secretary John A. Scocos/Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Superior Telegram
It happened early on a Sunday morning in December, 70 years ago. The United States of America had an outpost — a naval base in the Pacific — nestled in an idyllic setting called Pearl Harbor, within its island territory of Hawaii.
Suddenly, at about 7:20 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the naval base came under unprovoked attack by airplanes and bombs sent by the Empire of Japan. Casualties included more than 2,400 Americans killed and 1,000-plus wounded. The toll included four U.S. Navy battleships sunk and four damaged; three cruisers damaged or sunk; three destroyers; one minelayer; and hundreds of damaged U.S. aircraft. The USS Arizona exploded, and the USS Oklahoma and the USS Utah were submerged and completely destroyed.
Never before had the United States witnessed such a surprise assault on her territory. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the date would “live in infamy.” Dec. 7 of each year now is observed as Pearl Harbor Day.
The attack on Pearl Harbor prompted our nation’s involvement in World War II nearly three-quarters of a century ago. It was the greatest war of our time. While to some it may seem like an era from the past, we must always remember and learn from our history, and from the men and women of our “Greatest Generation.”
World War II was the pivotal event of that century, and the men and women who won that war have made a contribution to our country and the world that may never again be equaled. About 16 million Americans served in World War II, with nearly 300,000 of them killed in battle and another 600,000 who would become its casualties. Almost 8,400 Wisconsin service members lost their lives during World War II.
The youngest of the living Pearl Harbor survivors are among the eldest WWII veterans and average 90 years old now. Of the some 32,000 veterans of WWII still living in Wisconsin, a remaining few Pearl Harbor survivors are still with us and able to tell what they witnessed on that fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941.
Firman Balza, 88, of Green Bay, says he was stationed on the USS Maryland at the time. He tells how he went back to his ship from the USS Oklahoma, to change into dress shoes before church. If he had not returned to his ship, he would have been on one of the eight ships on battleship row that took a direct hit and went down.
Stuart “Bud” Sweeney of Plymouth enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940 and was stationed at Wheeler Field when the attack hit. His story is the Air Corps served as a backup to the Naval War in the Pacific. “We were in a peace time Army and picked it up from there,” Sweeney said.
George Hutton of Madison is 90 years old. He entered the service on Dec. 7, 1938 in Omaha, Neb., and it was exactly three years later when the Pearl Harbor attack took place. He spent 23 years in the U.S. Navy. Hutton attended a reunion in 2010 of Pearl Harbor survivors who were stationed on the USS Nevada that fateful day. Hutton is a WWII veteran who has shared his story in an oral history recorded with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
Paralleling the sudden attack from 1941 is an event that took place nearly 60 years later, a recent event that has meaning for all of us. On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was the target of a surprise series of attacks while not at war. On 9/11, airplanes once again were used as the method of assault, this time aimed for the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the U.S. Pentagon, while a third attempt to attack the White House was halted over Shanksburg, Penn.
At the end of this month during, which we observe Pearl Harbor Day, all U.S. troops who have been involved in the Global War on Terrorism since this fateful day are being brought out of Iraq. When they return home, it is our mission to ensure they are reintegrated into our civilian society, with meaningful jobs, housing, education, health care and other treatment.
Our traditions of service and sacrifice as Americans has spanned nearly 250 years, since our nation’s beginning. During this present time in our country’s history, there are veterans of the “Greatest Generation” era who have witnessed firsthand the attack on Pearl Harbor and who also remember “9/11” within their lifetime.
These historical events hold significant meaning for all of us as Americans. May we never forget them, by always caring for our heroes who serve our country through each generation.