Tag Archives: WWII

Pearl Harbor at 80: Fewer and Fewer Heroes Left Alive from Day that Will Live In Infamy

Tomorrow, December 7, marks the 80th Anniversary of a Day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said would be a day that would, “live in infamy.”

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 America’s naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by aircraft and submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Sadly as each year passes fewer and fewer men and women from that courageous and infamous day are alive to tell the story of what they experienced.

Pearl Harbor still serves as a United States Naval institution over 60 years after being the site of one of the worst attacks on U.S. Naval resources in a single day. Photo R. Anderson
Pearl Harbor still serves as a United States Naval institution over 60 years after being the site of one of the worst attacks on U.S. Naval resources in a single day.
Photo R. Anderson

My grandfather, Howard Kirby, was at Pearl Harbor. He was one of the lucky ones who survived the attack. After a few other close calls he was able to return to his family at the end of the war.

While my grandfather was a survivor of the attack, more than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded on that December morning at Pearl Harbor.

The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more. It also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, and one mine layer. Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged.

Each year the Wings over Houston Airshow includes “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which is a reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a way to try to show what the attack was like.

As impressive as the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” show is, I know it is nothing compared to what that actual Sunday morning would have been like for those young men and women who forever had their lives changed.

Sadly, my grandfather died when I was five-years-old so I was too young to know the questions an older version of myself would have loved to have asked him about what he saw and experienced on the day that Pearl was attacked.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground. Photo R. Anderson
Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground.
Photo R. Anderson

The attack, on the “Day that will live in infamy” ultimately changed the United States forever as well and led to America’s entrance into World War II.

In the years following the attack several books and movies have been released that have posed the question of whether the attack could have been prevented, or at least better defended against, if more advanced warning had been given.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and as with any event fingers of blame are often pointed afterwards.

While I certainly believe in learning from history so as not to repeat its mistakes, I am also a firm believer in honoring those who sacrificed instead of blaming the blame game.

In the spirit of honoring the fallen, many of whom were buried with their sunken ships, memorials have been built to remember the day and its events.

The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.

The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. Photo R. Anderson
The USS Arizona memorial, which was dedicated in 1962, is a marble memorial over the sunken battleship USS Arizona that honors and remembers all military personnel who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memorial is that of the USS Utah, a battleship that was attacked and sunk in the attack. A memorial to honor the crew of the USS Utah was dedicated on the northwest shore of Ford Island, near the ship’s wreck, in 1972. The ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Pearl Harbor as a teenager and also saw the valley where the attacking planes made their assault.

While both areas are quiet and peaceful now they still bear the scars from the attack that occurred over 80 years ago.

As the sands of time continue through the hour glass, each day there are fewer and fewer people still alive that were at the attack. One news report I saw stated that only 40 Pearl Harbor survivors would be in attendance for this year’s memorial service.

While part of the reasoning behind the low turnout could be attributed to people not wanting to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sad reality is every day more and more World War II veterans are dying.

There will come a day in the not too distant future where all of the members of the greatest generation are gone. When the last of those brave men and women who fought to save the world from fascism and mad men hellbent of world domination it is up to those of us who remain alive to tell their stories and ensure that the world never succumbs to the evil forces that so many sacrificed and died to keep away from our shores as well as shores across the globe.

But while there are still veterans of World War II among us take time to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

The recent death of former United States Senator and Presidential candidate Bob Dole, who overcame life threatening injuries in World War II, brought home in a very public way the idea that we are nearing a time where World War II veterans will no longer be around to tell their stories. Dole, pictured here during a 1998 speech at the University of Central Florida, died in his sleep at the age of 98-years-old, and will lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol on December 9, 2021.
Photo R. Anderson

Much like the veterans of World War I, and the Revolutionary War, the veterans of World War II will live on long after they are gone through the memorials and the written account of what they experienced as they are passed down from generation to generation.

I have visited battlefields and memorials from one end of the country to the other and each one tells a story of bravery that helped shape the country into what it is today.

It is through these memorials and National Parks that the Nation’s story is told to future generations as a way to ensure that the history of America is preserved.

These memorials should also serve to show us that when things looked their darkest brave men and women answered the call and united together towards a common goal and purpose. We could certainly use some of that unity and resolve towards a common goal in place of all of the division and selfishness certain segments of society seem to feed on these days.

I just hope it does not take something as horrible as a world war to bring people back together and realize we are all in this together.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready to put my flag at half mast.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Sacrifice of D-Day Still Resonates 76 Years Later

June 6 marked the 76th Anniversary of D-Day, which is the name given to the World War II battle involving over 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.

With all that is going on in the world today, it can be easy to forget about things that happened so long ago. However, it is during times like these that the need to remember, and learn from history, is even more important. History does not happen in a vacuum, and failing to learn from it can lead to serious consequences.

On June 6, 1944 Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy in what would become known as D-Day.
Photo R. Anderson

Led by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, D-Day consisted of the Allied forces storming beaches at Normandy code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.

The storming of the beaches was met by German machine gunners and artillery who tried to hold back the invasion force. The German forces almost succeeded at Omaha, costing the Allies more than two thousand casualties in the opening hours of the battle.

For an idea of just how gruesome this type of frontal beach assault is, one need only watch the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It is easy to forget in this era of drone attacks and smart bombs, that war was once much more hand to hand, leading to much higher casualty rates among its participants.

In total, the Battle of Normandy lasted from June 1944 to August 1944 resulting in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. The battle has been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.

Allied troops used boats like this one at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on D-Day.
Photo R. Anderson

During the D-Day invasion, all scheduled Major League Baseball games were canceled marking only the second time in MLB history that games were cancelled league wide.

The first cancellation of MLB games happened on the day U.S. president Warren Harding died in 1923.

The third time was when Commissioner Bud Selig stopped play for six days from Sept. 11-16, 2001, following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Although the start of the 2020 MLB season has been delayed by two months and counting, technically the games have not been cancelled, and are merely postponed.

Two future MLB Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra and Leon Day, participated in D-Day. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 35 Hall of Fame members, including Ted Williams, and more than 500 MLB players served in World War II.

Unfortunately, the time to thank a World War II veteran in person for the sacrifices they made on those beaches over 70 years ago is vanishing rapidly.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 389,292 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2019. The United States Veteran’s Administration estimates that a World War II veteran dies around every two minutes. With each death of a WWII vet a piece of history is lost.

The COVID-19 virus effects the elderly at a disproportionate rate, meaning that the loss of WWII veterans could be sped up. Thankfully, there are stories of WWII vets who have made full recoveries from COVID-19 proving that they really are members of the “Greatest Generation.”

Unfortunately, even the greatest generation cannot win the battle against time over the long run. By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans. For comparison purposes, the last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011.

When Uncle Sam called them, Members of the Greatest Generation answered. Unfortunately, even the greatest generation cannot win the battle against time over the long run. By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans.
Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the stories of the veterans of WWII have been captured to ensure that they can be told long after the men and women who fought to free the world from tyranny are no longer with us.

It is likely, and hopeful, that the world will not see another war of the scale of World War II. While there will always be a need for a certain number of boots on the ground, advancements in technology have greatly reduced the number of boots required to conduct modern warfare.

But while the number of soldiers needed to protect freedom will continue to decline in the coming years, that does not minimize the level of sacrifice made by each of the soldiers who wear the uniform.

The example of D-Day shows us what happens when men and women from all walks of life unite against a common foe in order to seek an outcome that improves life for everyone. Every inch of sand that was captured on the beaches of Normandy involved a sacrifice the likes of which the world will hopefully never see again.

But, when they were asked to make that sacrifice, the soldiers on the front lines charged ahead for the greater good. That united we stand, and divided we fall outlook on life can be hard to see at times, but it is in the DNA of each and every one of us.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the stories of the veterans of WWII have been captured to ensure that they can be told long after the men and women who fought to free the world from tyranny are no longer with us.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, many images on the news the last few weeks have shown both unity for a cause, as well as armed resistance against the cause.

Television screens have been full of images of protests for social justice, and law enforcement entities clashing in cities across America. Now more than ever it is important to cling to the ideals of finding common ground and working together versus battling against each other.

So, take some time before the start of the hustle and bustle of the weekend to remember the sacrifice made on D-Day that helped maintain freedom, and reflect on the high cost of freedom paid by each generation that has gone before.

And by all means if you happen to see a World War II veteran, or any other veteran for that matter, be sure to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

And, wear a mask when you see them as a show of respect for that sacrifice when you are out and about. The veterans of World War II are already dying at a rapid rate, the last thing any of us should want to do is hasten their demise by infecting them with COVID-19.  Storming a beach when people are shooting at you is difficult. Wearing a mask to honor the people who charged when the bullets were flying is a very simple thing to do.

Honor their sacrifice by honoring them and protecting them. They showed they would do the same for each of us when they secured our freedom one inch of sand at a time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a museum visit to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson