It was 71 years ago today, on a sleepy Sunday morning, that waves of Japanese fighters and bombers descended on the U.S. Pacific fleet and the hundreds of aircraft parked on Naval and Army Air Corps airfields a Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.
By noon Hawaiian time, and by nightfall here on Cape Ann, more than 2,400 American servicemen were dead, 1,200 more wounded, seven of the largest warships ships in the harbor were sunk or damaged, over 300 American aircraft destroyed or damaged, and numerous other ships and military facilities were destroyed or damaged. And within days, America was forced from being a nation at a neutral peace to one plunged deeply into World War II, drawing millions of young Americans to fight, to risk or lose their lives both in Europe and on the Pacific front.
Gloucester alone would send 5,665 men and women to our military services during World War II, according to World War II veteran Michael Linquata, who heads the city’s World War II Memorial Committee. That means that a whopping 22 percent of our city’s population served — perhaps as much or more than any other town or city in the nation.
We pause and gather in pomp and ceremony each year to mark Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, and — while it’s not a recognized holiday – Sept. 11. Somehow, Pearl Harbor Day has never quite been granted that place on the American calendar. But let us not forget that – like Sept. 11 — this was a horrific but defining day that generated an unmatched resolve, commitment and unity of purpose for Americans of all ages to stand up for our democracy, our freedom, our way of life.
Each week, more and more of those proud veterans who served in World War II in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor are fading from our midst. That makes it all the more important to talk to them and to hear out the stories of courage and commitment that only they can share.
And if you come upon a WWII vet today, be sure to thank them for their service. This was a day that would define their generation; they deserve to know it’s not forgotten.