The Greatest Generation’s Day to Remember

Battleship USS West Virginia sunk and burning at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In the background is the battleship USS Tennessee.

It is a day that America must remember. It was a day that brought America together.

EVERY GENERATION has one significant even they will never forget.

For my parents, it was Pearl Harbor.

It was a day of fear, a day of sadness, a day of anger, a day that suddenly awoke a nation.

It was indeed a day that, in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, would forever “live in infamy.” It was a day of death and devastation, heartbreak and despair.

December 7, 1941.

Pearl Harbor.

Japanese warplanes, hauling bombs across the sea, roared out of the skies on a sleepy Sunday morning, and all hell rained down on the shores of Hawaii. In its wake would be launched America’s finest hour.

On that Sunday afternoon, Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington, D.C., when he was unexpectedly paged by the President. Roosevelt told him that America had been attacked. America was a war. America had no other choice

Admiral Nimitz, over a telephone, without any pomp or circumstance, was named Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Japan could not be allowed to prevail, he knew. America must endure. Nimitz never flinched.

On Christmas Eve of 1941, Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume his new command. All around him, he discovered a spirit of dejection and defeat, the likes of which he had never encountered before.

Eyes were hollow.

Hearts were heavy.

American ships, American sailor, lay in the midst wreckage at the bottom of the sea. On Christmas morning, he toured the Pearl Harbor and witnessed a sight that would never leave him or his psyche. Sunken battleships. Naval vessels lying in ruin. A harbor blocked by twisted and molten metal. Good men gone. Some would never be found.

As he returned to shore a young helmsman asked him, “Well, Admiral, what do you think after seeing all of this destruction?”

Chester did not hesitate.

And he shocked them all.

He said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”

Everyone sought for an answer.

Nobody had one.

“The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning,” Nimitz explained. “Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk, we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.”

That was Mistake Number One.

Nimitz continued, “When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

That was Mistake Number Two.

“Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill,” Nimitz said. “One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply.”

But it didn’t, and that was Mistake Number Three.

In the eyes of Chester Nimitz, America had not been defeated.

America was mad.

And the Greatest Generation marched off to war. In the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz at sea and General Douglas McArthur on land exacted a hard measure of America’s revenge. In their minds was etched one date: December 7.

Pearl Harbor Day.

Those who lived that day would never forget. The children of those who lived that day would never forget. But as the years have passed, Pearl Harbor, for many, has become a footnote in ancient history.

It is a day that America must remember. It was a day that brought America together. From the ashes of a terrible Sunday morning came brave young men and women to fight and die and fight on so that America could remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.

From one nation’s mistakes came another nation’s ultimate victory. Admiral Chester Nimitz never doubted it for a moment.

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  • Roger Summers

    No one says it like Caleb.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      We grew up honoring Pearl Harbor Day, Roger. Now I fear no one remembers it.

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