Every five years, the surviving Veterans of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 gather there for a reunion. But this year, the 65th anniversary, will be the last for most of them. These members of The Greatest Generation are in their 90's now and know that some of them won't be around in five years or won't be physically up to the long trip to attend.
In the decades since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, countless survivors have made the long journey back to Hawaii every five years to remember comrades who were lost and to catch up with those who lived but later went their separate ways. They drink Scotch and tell war stories; they brag and weep. They often just sit together and say nothing at all.
But this year's reunion holds an urgency that hasn't been part of gatherings past: Most Pearl Harbor survivors, nearing their 90s or even older, say it will be their final trip back to this place that changed the course of their lives and their nation forever. Event organizers--many of them children of survivors who are ailing or already have died--pragmatically are calling this the "final reunion." And survivors' extended families, including children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are coming along to the reunion in unprecedented numbers to glimpse history firsthand through their loved one's eyes before the opportunity is gone.
"This is their last swan song," said Sue Marks, an event volunteer whose father, a Pearl Harbor survivor, died a decade ago. "They know that a lot of them either won't be around in five years or won't be able to make the long trip."
A significant part of American history will soon be gone, to be found only in the history books. While all Vets deserve our respect and thanks, the men and women who were in World War II deserve an extra share, for it is their service and sacrifice that put The United States of America in a position to become the most powerful nation on the planet. If you know one of these people, thank them and if they are willing to tell you, listen to their stories and remember them, because as we all know, history books can and have been rewritten.
When I look at the state of the Union today, I shake my head and wonder what these people think of what has become of the country they gave so much to protect. We should do more to be like these men and get some steel in our spines, because the war we are fighting now is more like WWII than most of us would like to admit.
The enemy we face now wants the same thing the enemy they defeated 60 years ago, world dominion. Maybe their motivation is different, but the end goal is the same. But if we lose this war, our lot in life will be far worse than it would have been had these men lost WWII. We must take a lesson from The Greatest Generation and do whatever it takes to win. They fought brutal, bloody battles on the land and at sea because that is what it took to win. They destroyed entire cities and their populations, military and civilian, from the air because that is what it took to win. They could not afford to lose, and neither can we.
Remember Pearl Harbor. Remember 9/11.