For as long as I can remember, a close friend of my father’s used to call me every December 7th and remind me it was Pearl Harbor Day. Without any introduction or question as to whether or not I was busy, he would just start in with, “Young man, it’s December 7th.” Then depending upon the time of day he had called, or his mood in general, he would either ask me to put aside a few moments to remember “all our boys,” or go into more detail of that infamous day and how naïve we had been as a country to let that happen.
“Goddamnit! We got lazy and took our freedom for granted,” was a common thread of his.
Whenever we had this conversation, it was like yesterday for him. The intensity of his memories was riveting. He would begin by reminding me of the obvious, that he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. In the predawn hours of December 7th, 1941, he came off the harbor patrol watch and would later find that a Japanese mini-sub had snuck in through the nets behind his launch. After less than an hour of sleep, he was jolted awake by what he thought was some US military exercise. His only thought for the first few explosions was “what are those dumb bastards up to at this hour of the morning?”
And then in a whisper forever tinged with anger and disbelief, he would describe hours and a day of staying alive, trying to keep others from dying, and “cleaning up.” I remember his particular horror at how that evening US troops accidentally shot down one of our own planes. Most of all, I remember that despite all the years, he was still haunted by the noise, the images, the smell, and the death of so many young boys.
“Jesus Christ, they were just kids.”
2402 US personnel were killed, 1282 were wounded, and the US was at war. My friend would serve in almost every major naval battle in the Pacific. He would go on to earn the Silver Star for heroism and survive having 3 ships sink under him. I once told him to remind me not to take any offshore sailing trips with him.
“Hey smart ass, you just remember.” And he would go on to remind me (again) how often our generation takes our freedom for granted.
He passed away December 9, 2000 at the age 84.
I miss his calls, but I remember.