It is a privilege to be here today to honor the men and women who fought and gave their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Forever entrenched in our minds as “a day that will live in infamy,” the United States was attacked, and the strength of our nation was tested seventy years ago today.
The sky over Oahu was clear and blue that Sunday morning and America awoke in peace. But at 7:55 a.m., this tranquil scene was shattered as Japanese aircraft bombarded the Naval outpost of a dormant Pacific Fleet. Targeting the battleships moored in Pearl Harbor, the enemy planes struck hard and fast. They bombed the Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam.
The attack was over in less than two hours, but the devastation was overwhelming. Twenty-one of more than ninety ships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet were damaged or sunk. More than three hundred aircraft were hit or destroyed. But most overwhelming of all was the loss of more than 2,400 lives and the injuries inflicted on 1,200 others.
The sinking of the battleship USS Arizona remains the most recognized symbol of that tragic day. Today, more than 1,100 men are still entombed within her rusting hulk. As an organization born of World War II, AMVETS has made it a point to honor those heroic individuals for their sacrifice. Our efforts to raise the necessary funds to complete the USS Arizona memorial and, later, the wall bearing the names of those aboard who died, testifies to this ongoing commitment.
And while much of the world has yet to fully realize the peace and freedom for which these men gave their lives, we remain determined that they shall not have died in vain. The Japanese struck a savage and treacherous blow at our peace-loving nation on December 7, 1941. The attack triggered a global war of unprecedented proportions and forever changed the course of world history. Our enemies were unaware at the time that their attempts to weaken us brought them only short-term success. Responding to the attack, Americans joined together in an all-out effort to win the war, which we thankfully have not had to repeat since. It was this unbreakable unity, sacrifice, and national resolve that ultimately became our most effective weapons.
On that fateful Sunday afternoon, an editorial appeared on the front page of the Honolulu Star Extra, which foretold the role of our national unity. It stated, “In this crisis, every difference of race, creed and color will be submerged in the one desire and determination to play the part that Americans always play in crisis.”
Today not only marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but also an unhappy yet inevitable milestone for the veterans’ community. Today, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will observe this day in history for the final time as an official organization. Congressionally chartered in 1958 with more than 18,000 members, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association now numbers less than 3,000, and most members are in their 90’s. Because of dwindling numbers, the Association has announced it will be forced to forever close its doors at the end of the month. This serves to remind us all of the fleeting opportunity we have to, honor, celebrate, engage, and learn from this vanishing generation of heroes, our greatest generation. They are national treasures all, and we must make every effort to appreciate these heroes among us.
Finally, I ask you to keep our servicemen and women in your thoughts and prayers throughout this holiday season and beyond. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coming to a close, it is our duty – not as AMVETS, veterans, or veterans’ advocates – but as Americans, to ensure we provide for the needs of our newest generation of returning war fighters. We must give them every opportunity to pursue their goals and dreams: to further their education, to find meaningful and lasting civilian employment, to receive the care and treatment they need for service-connected injuries and disabilities, and to provide for their own families once they return home. This is our charge, and we will not fail them.
With our nation and her allies challenged by those who wish to do us harm and threaten our very way of life, it is our responsibility to uphold the principles upon which America was founded. We can do our part by supporting those who are being called upon to defend these principles, carrying forth the legacy of heroism demonstrated at Pearl Harbor. As Americans, we are able to choose freedom because of the bravery of those who made the ultimate sacrifice on this day 70 years ago. We are proud to honor them. May we never forget their noble sacrifices for generations of Americans who followed. Thank you, and may God bless America.