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Relearning lessons taught at Pearl Harbor
Today is one of those days, if you’re over a certain age, you wish you would have listened more closely when your parents or grandparents told stories about World War II.
Reporters born during the last few decades were lucky if they got to interview sailors or civilians who were there on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Despite all the rumors, conspiracy theories and facts to the contrary, Americans from the White House to the poorhouse were shocked into taking a united stance against common enemies that wanted to end our way of life.
Eyewitnesses are rare indeed. Wednesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts honored three of the four remaining Nebraskans who were there 76 years ago, Walter Barsell, 96, of Wahoo; Ed Guthrie, 99, of Omaha and Melvin Kennedy, 94, of Grand Island.
You can read more about the ceremony and other personal stories elsewhere in this issue.
Many, perhaps most, Americans had never heard of Pearl Harbor before the news broke that Sunday afternoon that hundreds of Japanese planes had attacked that major U.S. Navy base near Honolulu.
The attack was launched just before 8 a.m. Honolulu time, about noon in Nebraska. The news took time to filter through the radio and other crude electronic communications channels of the day.
When damage could be compiled, we were shocked to learn the Imperial Japanese Navy had succeeded in damaging or destroying nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and more than 300 aircraft.
More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, including civilians, and at least 1,000 were wounded.
None of our aircraft carriers were in port at the time, however, which proved to be a crucial reason we were able to turn the tide of war at later battles at Midway and the Coral Sea.
The attack pushed the United States away from its pretense of neutrality and into full participation in World War II. Despite the initial attack by Japan, the Pacific Theatre was put on a relative back burner until Germany could be defeated.
The official toll was 2,403, according to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, including 2,008 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, 218 Army personnel, 68 civilians. The USS Arizona, the centerpiece of the Pearl Harbor memorial, accounted for 1,177 of the dead. Fifty-five Japanese were also killed in the attack.
The “Day of Infamy” served as a benchmark until Sept. 11, 2001, when 2,997 were killed, including 19 terrorists. That included 2,606 in the World Trade Center, 125 at the Pentagon and 246 on the four planes, not including the terrorists.
The terror attacks continue to claim victims, thanks to illnesses caused by the dust at the collapse of the World Trade Center.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks created national unity, but nothing as enduring as that which followed Pearl Harbor.
Both prove that, despite the divided political climate America is now experiencing, we can work together when faced with a threat to our national survival.