This day has always held unique meaning for me. From early childhood, I knew that the man who would become my father was on a military ship bound for The Philippines in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941. Before I realized the significance of that day, I knew that his ship had received new orders to turn back immediately and return to its West Coast port of embarkation. Had the ship not returned to U.S. waters, who knows how its fate, or mine, might have been different?
That was perhaps the first of the stories that were a part of my upbringing and the proud military traditions of my family. As I have grown older, the day has also grown more meaningful because it represents a time that, I believe, served to rally Americans in a way that few other events have united us. Our nation was thrust suddenly into a war that was not of our making. My father and my uncles served in that war, in Europe and the Pacific. Others of my family served in World War I, and still others wore the uniform proudly both in peacetime and during other campaigns fought by their country.
On a whim, as I thought about the events of Pearl Harbor those many years ago, I checked to see what else had occurred in history on December 7. It was on this date, also in 1941, that Adolf Hitler authorized the secretive “Night and Fog” campaign, aimed to arrest and execute citizens in territories occupied by Nazi Germany.
I was more than surprised to learn that, on December 7, 1917, the U.S. Congress approved a resolution which led to a declaration of war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Senate later approved the resolution 74-0, and the U.S. was officially a player in the “war to end all wars.” That’s a date in history I was never required in memorize in school.
It was also on this date — in 1972 — when NASA launched the last manned flight to the moon, carrying a crew of three — Command Module Pilot Ronald Evan, Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, and Commander Eugene Cernan. Schmitt and Cernan landed on the surface on December 11. The crew returned safely to earth December 19, with Schmitt and Cernan still the last human beings to have walked on the moon. That’s an event I cannot forget, although that mission was 50 years ago!
No doubt others have their own memories tied to December 7 — that’s the way it is with dates, whether they have historical impact or only personal significance. Sometimes, we are caught up short by the memories they provoke, and occasionally a date that should be marked in some larger way slips by unrecognized. Either way — whether it’s of lasting import or only a fleeting thought — perhaps there is more to celebrate and think about on this day than on most.
Several years ago, I was privileged to attend a ceremony at the small Veterans Memorial Plaza in Burleson, Texas. It was a moving tribute to those who served in World War II. The speaker was Don Graves, then a 93-year-old Marine Corps veteran who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima, and was present at the ceremonial flag-raising on Mount Surabachi.
He was lucky. He survived. He noted that he would never forget the words of President Franklin Roosevelt the day following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was 16 at the time. He could not enlist for another six months, until he turned 17. “We were just kids,” he said, adding that he and his buddies signed up to fight for their country without thinking of the future or the consequences. “It was just the way we were brought up,” he said.
Now, that’s something to think about, isn’t it?