President Roosevelt was right to call it “a date that will live in infamy.” But for my fellow survivors and me, it also is alive in memory, like shrapnel left embedded in our brains because the surgeon thought it too dangerous to operate.
Those images remain with us survivors seventy-five years later. Sometimes they intrude into our day, a moment spontaneously combusting, and suddenly we are back in the flames that engulfed our ship or in the oil-slick waters that surrounded it.
Sometimes they come to us in the night, a haunt of images that troubles our sleep. Or perhaps the phone rings, and we flinch. Or a car backfires, and instinctively we duck.
These memories lie within me, forever still and silent, like the men entombed in the Arizona. Others, like the oil that seeps from its wreckage, slip around inside me until they find a way out and make their way to the surface, where they pool and sometimes catch fire.
Over the years, many of us made the pilgrimage back to that harbor, where we have experienced both the soothing of those wounds, and, at the same time, a reopening of them.
Have some been healed? Yes. Year by merciful year. But all? No. And that is true for so many who have survived trauma, not just those who have survived the horror of war.
Today is the 78th anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor (is that possible???) that drew the United States into the great conflagration known as World War II. Ask anyone who was living that day and they can tell you exactly where they were. It was an act of treachery and it proved to be foolishly short-sighted and ultimately fatal for the Japanese militarists. It was that generation’s 9/11.
Sadly the generation of Pearl Harbor is rapidly fading away. But its lessons remain and remind us that we must constantly be on guard as a nation because there are those out there who hate us and want to destroy us and end our way of life.
From the History Channel:
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
I first encountered William Bradford’s supposed First Thanksgiving Proclamation when my family and I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some dear friends from our church. Knowing that I was a historian, the host pulled me aside before the meal to tell me that he had found the text of Governor Bradford’s proclamation calling for the First Thanksgiving, and that he planned to read it before asking the blessing. Here is what he had found:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
Ye Governor of Ye Colony
Although I was uncomfortable contradicting my host, I felt compelled to tell him that this was a hoax. Can you figure out why?
After the first successful harvest in November of 1621, Governor William Bradford decided to organize a celebration, a festive three-day feast remembered today as America’s first “Thanksgiving.” The Governor gathered together the colonists along with a group of their Native American allies including Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe for the celebration.
The only written account of the festivities comes from Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s journal in which he describes how Governor Bradford sent out a party of four men on a “fowling” expedition prior to the celebration and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer.
Due to the lack of ovens on the Mayflower and the dwindling sugar supply by the fall of 1621 historians suggest that the traditional dinner and deserts we have today may not have been on the menu during the event. Many believe the feast more likely consisted of a variety of traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan along with local fruits and vegetables.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.
Since it is Sunday, at dawn they assemble for the liturgy in the major church built by Constantine and located on Golgotha behind the Cross [in Jerusalem]; and whatever is done all over customarily on Sundays is done here. Indeed it is the practice here that as many of the priests who are present and are so inclined may preach; and last of all, the bishop preaches. Because of the sermons that are preached, there is a great delay in giving the dismissal from the church; therefore, the dismissal is not given before the fourth or fifth hour [10-11am].
However, once the dismissal from the church has been given in the manner which is followed everywhere, then the monks, singing hymns, lead the bishop to the Anastasis [church of the Resurrection]. When the bishop, to the accompaniment of hymns, approaches, all the doors of the basilica of the Anastasis are opened, and all the people enter, the faithful, that is, but not the catechumens. Once the people have entered, then the bishop enters and proceeds immediately to within the railings of the grotto shrine. First, they give thanks to God, and so the sacrifice is offered; and then a prayer is said for everyone. Afterwards, the deacon cries out that all should bow their heads, wherever they are standing, and then the bishop, standing within the inner railings, blesses them; afterwards, he goes out. As the bishop is leaving, all come forth to kiss his hand. And so it is that the dismissal is delayed until as late as the fifth or sixth hour [11am-noon]. Later at vespers everything is done exactly according to the daily ritual.
Egeria, Abbess and Pilgrim to Jerusalem, Pilgrimage 25
Today marks the 156th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one of the seminal speeches in American history. Take time to read and reflect on it today and give thanks that God has raised up leaders like President Lincoln to guide our country through extraordinarily difficult times.
LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
As you pause this day to give thanks for our veterans, past and present, take some time to familiarize yourself with the history of this day.
World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
Today marks the 74th anniversary of Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of World War II (the formal, unconditional surrender was not signed until September 1, 1945). Stop and remember the brave men and women who fought against the evil of Nazism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s.
Remember too our brave soldiers today who are fighting against another form of evil and keep our soldiers in your prayers.
My fellow Americans, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, in Tokyo Bay:
The thoughts and hopes of all America–indeed of all the civilized world–are centered tonight on the battleship Missouri. There on that small piece of American soil anchored in Tokyo Harbor the Japanese have just officially laid down their arms. They have signed terms of unconditional surrender.
Four years ago, the thoughts and fears of the whole civilized world were centered on another piece of American soil–Pearl Harbor. The mighty threat to civilization which began there is now laid at rest. It was a long road to Tokyo–and a bloody one.
We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.
The evil done by the Japanese war lords can never be repaired or forgotten. But their power to destroy and kill has been taken from them. Their armies and what is left of their Navy are now impotent.
In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric was suffused with a profound sense of loss. He considered it shameful national backsliding that a new affirmative defense of slavery had arisen in the South. At the time of the Founding our nation had merely tolerated slavery; now, it was an institution actively celebrated in part of the country.
In a letter in 1855 despairing of ending slavery, Lincoln wrote to the Kentuckian George Robertson that “the fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day–/for burning fire-crackers/!!!”
At around this time, Lincoln fastened on the Declaration of Independence as “his political chart and inspiration,” in the words of his White House secretary John G. Nicolay.
He made it the guidepost by which the country could return to its lost ideals. His example shows the enduring vitality and the endless potential for renewal that is inherent in the Declaration.