Monday, December 07, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor



I wonder. Is there ever a time when a tragic event stops eliciting strong emotions and becomes just another historical footnote? If so, how long does that take?

It seems to me that the urgency that used to surround remembering Pearl Harbor has eased somewhat in recent years. Perhaps because so many of the people who actually witnessed it area gone and that strong emotional connection is weakening.

In the not too distant future most of the people who were alive when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor will be dead, and then the remembering will be done by people of my age group, who were born just as the war was ending. Pearl Harbor touched us only in the stories told to us by our fathers and our grandfathers, and I'll admit that the story did not affect me as deeply as the memory affected my father and my grandfather.

The full impact of what happened on December 7, 1941 didn't hit me until I visited the memorial in Pearl Harbor when we took a trip to Hawaii. Actually seeing the place, standing where the Arizona still lies beneath the water, and watching people drop flower petals on the water made it real. Even our daughter, yet another generation removed from the reality, was deeply touched. We stood there, arm and arm, and wept.

7 comments:

Being Beth said...

I had a similar experience when I stood on the Civil War Battlefield in Gettysburg a few years ago. I could feel the enormous energy of the soldiers lives that were lost on those grassy fields, the importance of what the war cost not only our country, but families, and individuals. It was like standing on holy ground. It demanded silence as well as tears. I gave both willingly.

LuAnn said...

My mother worked at the Bremerton Navy Yard and knew some of the men who died at Pearl Harbor. She visited the memorial several years ago and it was very difficult for her. But it also helped her bring some closure to the event and to her friends who died so many years ago.

Maryann Miller said...

Beth, I wondered if it would be powerful to visit the Civil War sites, and I guess it is. Maybe that's why memorials are so important.

LuAnn, when I visited the memorial in Hawaii, one thing that really touched me was the number of Japanese people who threw petals into the water. I was standing next to a woman, about my age, who did not speak English, but her granddaughter was with her who did. The granddaughter said the older woman wanted to come to say she was sorry. I was speechless. Brings tears to my eyes to even remember that moment.

Helen Ginger said...

It does seem as though the anniversary came and went without a single mention (or perhaps I just missed them). I felt the same way when we visited the memorial. For those of us not around when it actually happened, the depictions in movies remind us of what happened that day. Certainly no where near the reality, but it keeps the memory alive.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Clint said...

I'm a little late to the party...sorry about that. Being in my late 30s, I only know of Pearl Harbor from history books, novels, and movies. While both of my grandfathers served in WW II, neither of them were stationed at Pearl Harbor.

I can only imagine what a rallying point Pearl Harbor must have been for our country. The solidarity that seemed to ensue afterward is quite inspiring. The only thing I can think of in my lifetime that comes close is the solidarity that our country had after 9/11/01.

Events like Pearl Harbor and the 9/11/01 attacks bring the horrors of war home to me on as visceral a level as it can get for me. I wish war was completely eradicated and unnecessary...but alas, neither has come to be. The only thing I can do is remember, reflect, and offer a huge thank you to the men and women who have served our country or who are currently serving our country in the military. Regardless of one's feelings about war, the members of our armed forces deserve...and have earned...our respect and gratitude.

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for that touching and insightful comment, Clint. It adds a lot to the sentiments held here.

Terry Odell said...

December 7th is my brother's birthday, although he was born a few years after Pearl Harbor.

I agree that being 'at the source' of historical events elevates them from textbook reading. Much like "show" vs. "tell" in writing.

A few years ago, my mother took us to visit where she grew up, a place she'd had no desire to visit because of her feelings about the war an its atrocities. However, she also included a trip to a concentration camp as places she wanted to visit. Although she and her family got out, she felt an obligation to see what others had been through. Reading about it doesn't come close. I don't know how she managed to look into the ovens and go into the gas chambers. I couldn't, and I'm a generation removed.