Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Photo by Brent Fritzemeier

It was a typical Sunday. Early church bells had just begun to ring. Some servicemen were still sleeping. Others were on their way to breakfast.

But the ordinary turned to extraordinary in just moments. On that Sunday morning, the first two waves of aircraft - about 180 planes - roared off the decks of Japanese carriers north of Oahu at 7:49 AM.

At 7:55, the quiet morning at Pearl Harbor was ripped apart when the first Japanese bombs dropped. Some Japanese aircraft swooped down on the harbor and Battleship Row. Others headed for nearby airfields, where American planes were lined up, wing-tip to wing-tip. Within minutes, the aircraft were reduced to useless heaps of torn and melting metal and the harbor was choked by black smoke and fire as mighty ships slipped toward the ocean floor.

A few minutes into the attack, a message was sent to the U.S. capitol: Air raid, Pearl Harbor - This is no drill! Pearl Harbor was pounded with bombs, torpedoes and bullets from 7:55 until 9:45 AM. As the Japanese planes roared away, they left 2,403 American officers and fighting men dead and another 1,178 wounded. Civilians were also caught in the crossfire of the surprise attack.

For most Kansans, it was just another typical Sunday. Many had gone to church and were relaxing with their families and friends after a big Sunday dinner on this day of rest. Many had been listening to the Sunday afternoon broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra when the first newsflash interrupted the programming.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had hoped to keep America out of World War II. All that changed on December 6, 1941.

Photo by Brent Fritzemeier,
the Washington Monument from the World War II Memorial

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. A few years ago, I interviewed about 20 servicemen and women who had served our country during World War II. The stories were a series of articles for the Wesley Towers Tapestry. All of them were residents of the Hutchinson retirement facility.

The interviews were some of the most moving stories I'd ever heard. They talked humbly and quietly about their service at Guadalcanal, the Island of Tarawa, the Aleutian Islands, Italy, at the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Battle of Okinawa and on ships in the Pacific. Two of the men actually saw the flag raised on Iwo Jima. Some served on bases on the homefront. One woman shared her experiences as the wife of a Prisoner of War. They represented all branches of the armed forces. Whether they served on American soil or overseas, they did their part to fight for America's freedom.

Each Sunday, our church bulletin lists men and women from our community who are serving our country. These were the kids I watched on the football field. I served some of them cupcakes at classroom Valentine's parties. They, too, were doing ordinary, every day things in a small town in South Central Kansas. Yet today, they are doing extraordinary things to serve our country. It is their efforts - and the sacrifices made by their families left at home - who help us to continue as the land of the free.

Our little community is no different than others across the nation. On this 70th anniversary of "a day that will live in infamy," let us never forget. It's more than a page from a history book.

... Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King.

Enjoy this duet rendition of My Country Tis Of Thee sung by
Josh Groban and Heather Headley.