Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
I wasn't there that day but I think the experience must have been akin to the shock my generation felt while watching the events of September 11th unfold. Even now words fail to describe the horror and disorientation as ordinary lives quickly spiraled into the realm of nightmare and disbelief. I don't know if hearing things second hand, after the fact and described over the radio would make them more or less conceivable than watching them unfold live before your eyes on a television screen, but doubtless the situation could only have been surreal. What could the future possibly hold?
Both of my grandfathers served in WWII. One served in the Army in the Pacific, primarily in Okinawa, the other was a Navy man storming the beach at Normandy and sailing the coasts of Africa. I grew up hearing stories of what life was like for my grandmothers waiting back home but since neither of my grandfathers have ever really talked about their war experiences, I've imagined and pieced together what their lives may have been like through watching countless movies and reading scores of books both fictional and non.
My father and grandfather both served missions in Germany, my grandfather in the late 30s just prior to Hitler's reign of terror and my father in the early 70s. Their love for the German people and the land in general also generated a fascination in me for that area of the world and its complex and troubled history. I've spent many hours poring over slides and photos and journal entries of their experiences at various sites and hearing them talk about the damages Hitler's rule did to so many good people. I've been blessed to see a few of those places myself in recent years and remember watching with my father as the Berlin Wall fell and thinking that finally the land could begin to heal.
I was also able to spend some time in Hawaii several years ago and visited the site of the USS Arizona. There is a definite feeling of the sacred as you stand over the remains of ship still sitting at the bottom of the harbor, the watery graves of the 1177 crew members, soldiers and civilians lost in that fateful attack. Over 2000 were lost that day and over 1000 more injured in the episode that finally entered the US in the great war that had been raging already in Europe and the Pacific for years.
My grandfathers are 88 and 92 years old, their generation has nearly come to its close and soon only their stories and memories will be left. As George Santayana so wisely observed, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." Let us not forget this Greatest Generation, their experiences and all that they've gone through or we will surely go through it again for ourselves.