Three years ago today, I was under a great tent looking out onto the beautiful Bay of Pearl Harbor. Just a few yards from me, I watched a very dashing 89 year old man with his fiancee dancing to the music of the 1940s.
He later introduced himself to me as Mr. Gery Porter and shared his story as the National Secretary and Treasurer for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. His regret was palpable as he explained that this was the very last gathering because too many had died and the association had decided to disband. The next evening, my family and I watched Tora Tora Tora, at a special showing of the film, followed by personal accounts from survivors. That weekend, we ran into our friend Zane Schlemmer with whom we had spent time earlier that year in Normandy.
He was dressed in the uniform of the Second World War and was as spry and energetic as could be. He gave my sister Faith his Hawaiian lei after she sang to him, and she still has it, dried and framed, on her dresser.
That same day we spent the better part of a very beautiful hour with Mr. Harold Dove. This very kind Pearl Harbor veteran put his arms around my brothers and sisters and hugged them, sharing his own memorable stories and letting us know how much he delighted to be around children.
Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the 73rd anniversary of a date that will be forever remembered as “a day which will live in infamy.” Our friends Mr. Porter, Mr. Schlemmer, and Mr. Dove have now passed away, and they are not the only ones. Their faces and their stories are forever in our memory. I remember them as gallant older men who talked as if they had the hearts of boys. But I picture them as the young men which they once were, who had to assume an uncommon maturity well beyond their years.
Today as I think of them, I consider it a great honor to have met and now be able to share their names with you. I was hardly fifteen years old in 2011 in a sea of more than a thousand people, hundreds of whom had been survived the attack at Pearl Harbor. For many of these frail men, it seemed as if the finality of the occasion brought some form of relief. It was time for someone else to remember and tell the stories.
It was a long journey for America from December 7, 1941 to September 2, 1945. For nearly four terrible years America was at war with the world. Here we are now, just days away from the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, months away from the 70th anniversary of Iwo Jima, and only 6 months from VE Day. I don’t feel the relief experienced by some of these aging heroes. I feel urgency because of the ever narrowing window of opportunity to see their faces and hear their stories.