Pearl Harbor Assignment

I don’t remember exactly what my teenage-know-it-all-wise-cracking mouth uttered, but the hurt on my friend’s face immediately told me to stop. It was early December and we’d been assigned to write something about Pearl Harbor. My comment had to do with how assignments like this were stupid. For my friend, it was deeply personal.

Every December 7th her family honored an uncle she’d never met but somehow knew deep in her heart. The stories that were shared around the living room were both gruesome and glorious—if that were possible. From an early age she’d come to respect this man whose uniformed picture was prominently displayed on the nearby bookshelf.

Her uncle and father had grown up in a small town and when World War II had started in Europe her uncle left the mill and had enlisted. Her father, much younger and still living at home, watched his brother ship off for a base stationed in Hawaii. It seemed safe, but he missed his brother terribly.  Then December 7, 1941 changed all their lives forever. 

Her uncle was among those who grabbed one of the anti-aircraft gunners, desperately shooting at the low-flying planes. A story that was shared by a survivor told of him being burned horrifically by the nearby inferno and continuing to fire his weapon until he collapsed and died.

My callous disregard for the Pearl Harbor attack diminished the heroic efforts of my friend’s uncle and the other 2401 that were killed and over 1200 more who were wounded that day. As my friend wrote about her uncle, I looked at the books she had about that awful day. I didn't realize that something that happened so long ago could still cause people to suffer.

Each December 7th, I remember that afternoon of writing, and have since determined to honor all of those defending my freedom. What a tremendous cost that I knew nothing about and need to remember far more often. A valuable assignment? Indeed.

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