December 7th, 2016: A Date Which Will Live in Memory
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great humility and honor that I am happy to report that Bunny and I were able to attend this week’s ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Many alive today may not appreciate the impact of Pearl Harbor had on the United States, and on the world. One may think of it as the “9/11” of the 20th Century. It forced isolationist America into World War II—and certainly changed the course of history.
We had been invited our friend Ross and his family to attend the ceremonies which would honor his grandfather, WWII veteran, Seaman First Class, Edwin Hamilton. Known by all of us simply as, Gramps.
Determined to join the historic events, several days of stress for Bunny and I ensued. We were concerned over whether, flying standby, we would even make it in time to the ceremonies. For, as December 7th approached, the world approached Hawaii as well. Thank the Lord, we made it in time.
Stress continued to abound, however, as we knew the entire island would descend upon the ceremonies, and first-come-first-served ruled the day. Up at oh-dark-thirty, Bunny and I parked our rental at Aloha stadium and—rather than wait 30′ for a bus ride—took the 20′ walk to the event.
The main event would occur on Kilo Pier, where WWII vets and their close relatives had been invited. Somewhat bummed that we were not able to secure tickets to the main event, we did our best to make do at the public location, viewing it onscreen at Pearl Harbor Park.
Fighting the hoards at 5am was no easy task, but we finally managed to secure a spot at the public site. Relieved, we awaited sunrise and the beginning of events, at 7:55 am . . .the moment the first bomb dropped.
Then, something beautiful happened, and all our worries and all our stress melted away, as Bunny and I realized we were meant to be there, right where we were.
You see, I happened to overhear a conversation between an elderly gentleman, and a lady and her son. My ears perked up, as I heard the lady ask questions of this man.
“I was a Petty Officer in the Navy,” he replied, “although, now, I am legally blind.”
My eyes grew misty. Those terms, “Petty Officer,” and “Legally Blind,” hold special meaning to me. My father, whom we lost in 1995, had been a Petty Officer in WWII . . . and later in life became legally blind.
After the lady left, I introduced myself to the man. Jim was his name, and he was a veteran of the Korean War. Bunny and I profusely thanked him for his service, but he seemed baffled by our gratitude.
With a twinkle in his eyes, he answered in the typical self-deprecating humor of his generation.
“All I did was peel potatoes,” he replied.
“Well,” I reminded him, “Napoleon said that an Army marches on its stomach.”
Jim, it turned out, lived alone in Houston; his wife had passed away years earlier, and he had no children.
Undaunted by his condition and advanced age—78—he was determined to travel all the way to Hawaii to honor his fellow military comrades.
And, today, all on his own, he’d taken a 1.5-hour bus ride to Pearl Harbor Park.
Bunny and I exchanged knowing glances; now, we both knew why we were there.
All the struggles, all the stress and worry, melted away. Suddenly, everything—the ceremony, the trip, struggles, the history—had become personal, intimate and meaningful for us.
Suddenly, we realized that we, too, had a date with destiny . . .we had a date with Jim.
Throughout the day, random strangers continued to thank Jim for his service. He seemed genuinely surprised by the gesture. In all, easily a half-dozen people of all ages went out of their way to approach and thank him.
Afterwards, Jim stated he needed to catch the bus back. Bunny and I exchanged another glance; we would NOT let this honorable, heroic veteran potato peeler suffer another grueling solo bus ride to his lodgings . . .we chauffeured him personally.
Pearl Harbor—and our date with Jim—taught us something that day . . .
We are ALL survivors.
Not just of Pearl Harbor, not just of WWII, but of life, of history, of destiny. Japan and the United States learned to forgive and heal along side one another, and to forge a prosperous future.
As a 103-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor said in his rousing speech before the beginning of the parade, we must learn to put aside our past mistakes and grievances, heal together, and work toward a nuclear-free future, for the survival of ALL mankind.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” –Ronald Reagan