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Memories of Pearl Harbor and why it matters to you 77 years later

From the Newsroom

Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from business editor Rett Nelson. Portions of this column were originally published on September 12, 2018.

Friday, Dec. 7 marked the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that propelled the country into World War II.

The events of that day are memorialized every year during a ceremony at the site of the USS Arizona in Honolulu, Hawaii. Today, there are five remaining survivors who were aboard the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. Every year, some of these American veterans have been present at the Pearl Harbor memorial ceremonies in Hawaii. This year, however, none of them could make it, according to CNN.

“Clearly, you can do the math. If you were 20 at the end of the war, you’re 95 today,” Rob Citino, senior historian at the Natonal World War II Museum in New Orleans tells CNN. “(Survivors and veterans) have the ultimate irreplaceable quality. They were there. It wasn’t the pages of a book — it was your life. It was your mother, your brother. It was your house going up in flames in bombings. And it isn’t just World War II. The same thing happens for any important period.”

My grandmother, who passed away nearly a year ago after 100 years of life, could remember vividly the events of that day. The day after the attack, on December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his “day of infamy” speech over America’s airwaves. My grandmother often recalled hearing those words over the radio.

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” FDR said to congress.

World War II had officially begun, but as a 23-year-old young woman, my grandmother did not fully understand the significance of what was happening at the time.

Those who were old enough to witness that day have never forgotten the sense of unity that seemed to prevail in the ensuing weeks in their community and across the country.

Similarly, I recall walking into my first period world geography class at Rigby High School seventeen years ago, on September 11, 2001, for what could be considered my generation’s “day of infamy.”

RELATED | Tragedy may endure for a night, but morning in America will always come

The TV was on. I remember vividly the live footage on “Good Morning America” of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City.

Just as clear in my mind is the plume of smoke coming from the lower tower and people scrambling in fear.

I also remember seeing President Bush on TV several days later addressing the first responders near the rubble at ground zero.

“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

The war on terror had officially begun, but as a 15-year-old kid, I did not fully understand the significance of what was happening at the time.

I will never forget what I witnessed that day and the sense of unity that seemed to prevail in the ensuing weeks in my community and across the country.

“We promised ourselves the country would never forget (9/11),” a business leader recently told me. “As generations come and go, that’s a hard promise to keep. In the face of this new generation, we all have a responsibility to maintain this legacy that’s changed our world.”

What he said about 9/11 also holds true for Pearl Harbor. There’s a reason I’ve posted this column on December 8 rather than December 7.

It’s not the tragedy, but America’s response to the tragedy the following day, that makes these events so unforgettable. On December 8 and September 12, in the wake of an enemy attack, America lived up to the words of its pledge as “one nation under God, indivisible.” On those days, and many weeks thereafter, Americans were on bended knee, united in one cause.

When tragedy strikes, Americans stand ready to lend a helping hand. America’s people may lose their way for a time. They may endure hard things for a night and even fall flat on their face, but morning in America will always come.

In the face of adversity, we never give up. We triumph over our foes and come out stronger in the end because we know who we are and in whom we trust.

We are Americans, one nation under God.

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