Pearl Harbor: Do we Really Remember?

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Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the terrible attack on US Soil that finally (finally) got the United States to fully engage in World War II, and not too many people seem to care.

Of course there are remembrances here and there, and moments of silence on military bases and ships around the globe, but in the general, everyday consciousness of Americans…this huge, historic, sad, shocking event is all but forgotten.  I know virtually no details of what happened.  But from what I hear, for years and years afterwards, it was treated the same way the September 11th attacks are treated now. So what happened?

You might say, well, it’s been 69 years.  No one remembers.  But I wonder, would you be so quick to dismiss commemoration of the 9/11 attacks?  Can you imagine a time when no one really thinks about the those attacks anymore?  When the site downtown is just another place of business? The Plaza they build just another place for office workers to catch some rays, have a cigarette, and enjoy their lunch?  It seems impossible.  But so did it seem impossible for the same thing to happen with Pearl Harbor.

And yet here we are.

Is there a shelf-life for remembrance?  Is there an expiration date on honoring those who lost their lives in a tragic attack?

Every year in NYC on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the families of those who died gather and listen and the names of the dead are read aloud.   If the attitude towards the anniversary of Pearl Harbor is any indication, that level of remembrance will be long over, long before I’ve forgotten that day.  In some day in the not-too-distant future, the 9/11 attacks will be reduced to a mention on the local news and an interview with some octogenarian who was there. Seems impossible, but inevitable.

I’m not even sure how I feel about that.  Maybe it’s better not to hold onto our grief forever.  Maybe it’s healthier not to relive, year after year, our loss.  Maybe, once the vast majority of people directly effected by the loss of life – the families and friends – of those who died have died themselves, it’s time to move on.

But maybe we shouldn’t forget.  Maybe the names of those who died in Pearl Harbor should be read aloud every year, even if there aren’t as many people standing there to hear them.

Living through September 11th, smelling the smoke days later, cooking and delivering food to the people working at the site in the days and months following the attacks, watching week after week of funerals at the church around the corner – funerals for firefighters, and fathers, and secretaries, and who knows who else…it’s not something I want to remember…but it’s certainly something I’ll never forget.

I may not have been alive during the Pearl Harbor attacks. And before September 11th, 2001, Pearl Harbor Day may not have been on my radar.  But it is now.  So to those who did live through it.  Or to those who lost family and friends.  Here’s to you. Here’s to the men (because then, it was mostly men) who lost their lives.

You are not forgotten.

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