The day has come once again, that day which altered the path of this nation, which changed the course of human history. A day that shall forever live in infamy. On December 8, 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed congress with the following words... (I edited a bit so you wouldn't have as much to read. Ellipsis indicate where words were removed)
Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of
America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces
of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific...
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost...
Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again...
With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
These words would come to redefine the character of not only this nation but also the very war itself. I have come to understand the significance of these words and of the events which occurred in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941 much more during this past year as I have been charged with the task of interpreting both the FDR and WWII Memorials. How does one explain such events to someone who lived through them? How does one connect such events to the lives of eighth graders from rural Tennessee? How are such events continuing to impact and influence each of our lives today? It is such questions that drive the life of a park ranger on the National Mall and it is fitting, I think, that here, as I face the final five days before my position here on the Mall is terminated, I find myself reflecting once again upon such thoughts.
69 years ago this morning 2,402 Americans lost their lives in less than 90 minutes. Nearly half of these lives were lost on the USS Arizona alone, one of four battleships who sank to the ocean floor of Pearl Harbor that morning. Unlike many other ships lost in WWII the Arizona was destined to be more than simply a sunken relic. She has become an enduring symbol, not only of what had happened that day in Hawaii, but also as an iconic memorial to the lives that were lost, and most of all of what it is that we as a nation united around and stood up for in the greatest international crises the world has ever seen.
Unlike anything before or sense in the history of this nation WWII united the country around a common cause. It touched the lives of everyone and the nation was forever changed when we once again emerged from the fires.
Etched around the American flag flying at the WWII Memorial are the words, "Americans came to liberate, not to conquer, to restore freedom and to end tyranny." I can think of no better summary of what it was that we were fighting for, standing up to the powers of tyranny, ignorance, and oppression and proclaiming that indeed, all men are created equal.
We were woefully unprepared when the war began, but as the country unified behind a common cause the nation was transformed into a powerhouse and ultimately emerged as the preeminent world power. On May 29, 1942 General George C. Marshall proclaimed that "we are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other." It would seem as though his words have proven to be true.
This is a day for remembering a great tragedy and a great loss of life, but it is also a symbol for a larger war, a war which claimed 404,800 American lives and more than 50 million human lives around the world. It is a symbol not only of those who died, but of all of the 16 million US men and women who served during WWII.
As we, this holiday season, continue to face nearly 10% unemployment nationwide, as we face remarkable deficit spending and call for change and reform and congress, let us take a moment to remember what it is that this nation is founded upon, what it is that we are intended to represent, and what this day means for our identity.
Every day more of those who served in WWII pass away from this earth. Among the most recent losses is Major Dick Winters, the commander of Easy Company made famous in Ambrose's book and Hanks' HBO production of "Band of Brothers." There are few who typify this spirit better than he. We would do well not to let what they stood for and represented pass away with them.