Today is a day that will live in infamy.
Those words were spoken by President Roosevelt 80 years ago today. Many that read this will feel that this happened so long ago that it should be considered ancient history. There are those of us that still remember the people directly impacted by this event. My father was one of two boys in a family of twelve kids. While he was too young to serve in WWII, his brother and all of his brothers-in-law would serve in various branches, all would see combat, and a few would become prisoners. My mother’s brother served in the artillery with the Americal Division and island hopped around the Pacific.
To me, the men that responded to this sneak attack were not old men in history books, they were my uncles, teachers, and my Dad’s co-workers. My brother even married the granddaughter of the Medal of Honor Recipient and former Prisoner of War, Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. Even my neighbor was a Veteran of that war. Sure, he may have been a member of the Japanese Navy and a pilot before becoming the Judo instructor at my high school, but he was a Veteran of the conflict no less.
As an adult I have spent most of my life in the Army and found a home with the Military Funeral Honors program. We provide honors for Veterans of all ranks, ages, and service periods. I am privileged to remain with this program as a retired service member and act as a Regional Manager for the Northwest. During my time as a Soldier carrying caskets and folding flags, I was able to mingle with Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) that were supporting the funerals.
Many of their members served in WWII and they always thanked me for my service. Some asked about my time in Iraq as a Tank and Gun Truck Commander and they always talked about how hard it must have been for us. I couldn’t help but laugh. Sure, combat is not fun but I knew their stories and nothing I did came close to what many of them did.
One example of a story from WWII that I could not compare my stories to was that of an artillery gun battery that was overrun by a Japanese bayonet charge. He was bayoneted from behind and survived simply because he wore the radio on his back. My Dad’s brother once told me a story of being a 5 inch gunner’s mate protecting a troop transport. They were under attack and his gun jammed. As the crew tried to clear the jam, a Japanese bomber approached and opened the bomb bay doors. Instead of dropping their bombs, they flew overhead, the doors closed, and it disappeared out of sight. Did they have a jam as well?
We are losing our WWII Veterans at an alarming rate. Soon we will have lost all of their experience and knowledge; the world will be a lessor place when that happens.