The importance of never forgetting our ‘Day of Infamy’

Ray Chavez was a quartermaster on the USS Condor stationed at Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. This past Thanksgiving Day, he died at the age of 106, quieting one of the few remaining voices from that horrific “Day of infamy” that jettisoned us into the heart of World War II.

Yesterday, Americans took time to remember the sacrifice made by those 2,403 servicemen killed in the attack, along with the 1,178 who were wounded

But this year’s remembrance also marked another somber occasion: It was first time a USS Arizona survivor wasn't present for the 7:50 a.m. commemoration of the more than 900 servicemen who remain entombed in the battleship.

All told, only five crew members are still alive from that morning attack: Lauren Bruner, 98; Lonnie Cook, 98; Ken Potts, 97; Lou Conter, 97; and Don Stratton, 96. This year, old age and failing health prevented any of those USS Arizona survivors from making the trip to Oahu.

As a child, I was only peripherally aware of the Vietnam War and even less so of the Korean War, which ended before I was born. Yet, as the last shot was being fired in Vietnam, I already knew what Pearl Harbor was. I knew how a quiet Sunday morning was transformed into a fiery nightmare by Japanese planes — and how, in less than nine minutes, more than 900 men became entombed in the wreckage that now rests like a shadow below the harbor's surface.

I also came to know how the morning was filled with as many acts of heroism and sacrifice as moments of unimaginable horror.

Over the years, images in text books, commemorative issues from publications like Time magazine and stories captured in movies impressed upon me the virtues of valor. 

At the same time, and perhaps more importantly, those images and stories that surface each year — much like the slowly recurring “black tears” of oil that still bubble to the surface from the USS Arizona — serve as a reminder of the ultimate price demanded by a world at war.

In an age when many entertain themselves with gaming systems that center around violent acts of war, the lessons learned from the sacrifices of the past are in danger of becoming diluted by pre-packaged and rewards-driven “acts of valor.” Underscoring this is the gradual and inevitable silencing of those voices who lived through that infamous day in our history.

As a result, the lessons learned from those sacrifices in our past aren't digging nearly as deep a groove in the minds of our children and our culture as they once did.

History forgotten is history bound to repeat itself. As the voices of Pearl Harbor grow silent, it is more important than ever that we ensure the black tears slowly surfacing from the USS Arizona are never forgotten — nor those for which they are shed.