Day of infamy

Seventy-eight years ago today, Japan attacked the United States without warning at the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plunging this nation into war.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt the next day stood before Congress and described Dec. 7, 1941, as  “a date which will live in infamy.” It has.

Veterans of that battle, the first for the United States in World War II, nowadays are old men, their numbers quickly diminishing. Their baseball caps emblazoned with a ship’s name or some other indication of their service to the nation are a reminder they paid a price for our freedom. They are the last living links to that battle.

The Japanese attack was vicious. Carrier-based warplanes sank five battleships, severely damaged three others anchored alongside, crippled or sank other ships of the U.S. fleet, and destroyed much of the nation’s Hawaii-based combat airplanes. The attack left 2,403 military and civilians dead – 1,177 from the USS Arizona alone.

Only two Army Air Corps fighter planes managed to get into the air to engage the Japanese planes that brought havoc to Pearl Harbor. One of those was flown by Ken Taylor, who survived several more combat missions during the war and who lived in Anchorage until his death in 2006. Taylor accounted for four Japanese dive bombers on Dec. 7 and was injured. After his retirement from a long career of active Air Force service, Taylor headed the Alaska Air National Guard, a brigadier general whose wartime heroism is still hailed.

World War II ended with victory over the Axis forces of Germany, Italy and Japan after four years of bloody fighting in the North and South Pacific, in North Africa, in Europe, China, Burma and India. In the rebuilding that followed, the rubble of the war in both Japan and Germany was cleared away and the nations that were once our enemies became our friends and allies.

At Pearl Harbor, the attack of more than seven decades ago is remembered at the USS Arizona Memorial, erected over the sunken remains of one of the battleships shattered in those opening moments of America’s entry into World War II.

On this day, we take a moment to remember what happened at Pearl Harbor and those who tragically gave their lives on the first day of a world war that fought back evil in the Pacific and in Europe; we salute the gallant survivors who went on to fight for our freedom.

And we keep in our hearts and our prayers those who serve now, doing a job than seems never to end.

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