Every December 7th I simply must stop and remember the sacrifice, courage, and gallantry of those American service men stationed at Pearl Harbor. I remember Sunday mornings on a Naval Base. The day is slowed down and if you were on liberty or not on duty at 8:00am that morning you were probably enjoying a beautiful, sun filled day in paradise. You must admit… it just doesn’t get any better than Sunday morning in Hawaii.
Most of these men (not on duty) were probably just finishing a lazy breakfast in the galley. Heading topside to enjoy the morning breeze as you write a letter home to your wife. Others (anchored away from the dock) are waiting for the skiffs to come along side to take you into the docks for a trip into town. When I was on ship I just loved sitting on a locker box affixed to the bulkhead on the side of the starboard bow. I would just lean back, look at the ocean, feel the warm breeze. Oh my, it was breath taking.
You must imagine how peaceful and serene this picture was, and how totally unaware these sailors were to anything that might bring them harm… much less bombs being dropped on their ships… bombs so large that they sunk all the battleships before they could get underway.
One moment there is peace and the very next second bombs are dropping and ships blowing up all around you. One moment you were safe in the gentle breeze of paradise and the next you are being blown into a sea full of oil, gas, flames and black choking smoke. One moment you have it all together and the next there are body parts of your friends all over the place. You are in SHOCK! Your mind is set on liberty mode. Your dress is casual liberty dress. You are in down time mode. And all of a sudden you are at war: At war in flip-flops and a flowery shirt.
Many awards were earned that day (15 Congressional Medals of Honor, Navy Crosses, Silver and Bronze Stars, and over 3,400 Purple Hearts… 2335 men were killed… 1143 wounded…) to men who were able to adjust their minds quickly from lazy Sunday liberty to kill those bastards before they kill you. One such quick thinking young sailor was a porter in the Captain’s mess (Dorie Miller), who without any training whatsoever, runs out on deck of the USS West Virginia, mans an anti-aircraft station and begins to shoot down Japanese planes. He also rescued many sailors who would have otherwise died… even rescuing his mortally wounded Captain. He was awarded the Navy Cross.
Military men of our generation who have fought in war look back on these men, the times in which they lived, the circumstances under which they fought and we are in awe of their courage, valor and bravery. We honor them all because we have seen what their war was like… what they experienced. What they saw. It is absolutely amazing that the men who fought on those Pacific Islands were ever able to function again in civilian life… it was that horrible. It was so horrible… the viciousness and unbridled evil of the Japanese soldier these men faced in places like Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Philippians, and Okinawa. The fierce nature of battles like these… the Japanese determination to never surrender but sacrifice their own women and children in the battles made it necessary for President Truman to use the Nuclear bombs. Okinawa was the next to last battle of the Pacific campaign. Soon (within weeks) the United States would be sending our men to face the Japanese in Japan proper. The estimations were that 100,000 U.S soldiers would lose their lives in those battles. The bombs ended the war in just a few weeks without the loss of American lives.
Back in 2012 the National Parks Service along with the military service organizations, who help to keep the memory of Pear Harbor alive, decided to invite back to the December 7th Memorial Celebration, the Japanese pilots who were involved in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. This gesture was NOT received well by many on both sides… others were ready for it and needed it. I remember hearing the story of a Marine aboard one of the ships in the harbor that day who suffered burns over much of his body. He went through many, many years of very painful surgeries and procedures. He said he could not and would not forgive them for what they did. Other men on both sides found common ground for forgiveness and a way forward.
I experienced a little of that feeling of confusion when we normalized relations with North Vietnam… asking what then was the purpose… all these young men dying “For Their Country” and now we are buying clothing an other goods made in the country of our enemy by the children of people who were killing us??? I can’t imagine a mother who has grieved the loss of her son for forty years… now she stands before the Wall in Washington and asks why did this have to happen? Was it all just a waste?
For me it has just added strength to my conclusion that war settles absolutely nothing… except people are dead who shouldn’t be dead. I think I have forgiven my enemy and my own country for the Vietnam War… even though I really don’t understand. I do know I have no interest whatsoever in going back. I am done with that… except for the nights it creeps into my dreams.
My experience in Vietnam is really inconsequential to the experience of the soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine of the Pacific Theater in WWII. If the men of that era can forgive so should I. Perhaps what we all need in today’s world with all that is going on is to witness one of these old salts of WWII to forgive with a “Remember Pearl Harbor” kinda of forgiveness. Maybe then we will see a path to real forgiveness to all around us.
Examples of our need to forgive and be forgiven are found throughout my books. I hope they will help us all find the way through. You can find them on-line at