December 7, 1999
This is the day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt predicted would live in infamy. On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, elements of the imperial Japanese military forces surprised the U.S. and most of the Western world with a devastating attack on the U.S. Navy fleet anchored in the sunny, tranquil waters of Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. On the following day, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare that a state of war existed between this country and Japan, plus the European German-Italian Axis. In the President's address to a solemn convocation of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, he uttered the "day of infamy" phrase, and that figure of speech itself continues to ring through the ages that followed.
This country thus was plunged into the cataclysm known as World War II and millions of citizens found their lives changed forever. Some of the most profound social and political facets of nations in every corner of the world were brought into being as a result of that single event. The impact is still being felt although the root cause becomes increasingly obscured with the onward march of time. We tend to forget that which we do not choose to remember.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a well-conceived operation. It caught Americans stationed in Hawaii sleeping late on the morning of a day traditionally set aside for rest and worship. Commanders and troops were unaware that a task force of Japanese Navy aircraft carriers was bearing down on them, intent upon vanquishing the American fleet, killing our fighting men and wreaking as much havoc as possible. It was an intentional provocation designed to bring this country to its knees and thus become an easy prey to uniformed marauders representing the very embodiment of evil.
We will never know just how close the enemy came to reaching that goal. The U.S. Navy, our primary line of defense in the vast Pacific Ocean area, was all but wiped out. Our military response to the attack was virtually non-existent. The Japanese pilots returned to their carriers with no American planes or seacraft in pursuit. It may have been the darkest day in U.S. military annals. Strangely, there was no attempt to land an invasion force on the West Coast of the U.S., although Pacific rim allies, such as the Philippine Islands, soon were overrun by the Japanese emperor's well-trained military. Americans quickly learned the need n and the meaning n of preparation for surprise attacks. All of us hope that lesson will never be forgotten when days of military cutbacks tempt our leaders to scale down below a reasonable margin of security.
Survivors of the epic known as World War II are rapidly dying out. That includes not only those who were called to serve in the military during that period, but also the civilians who provided support and succor. They are part of my generation, and I am saddened anew on this day by the melancholy thought of so many friends who gave up their lives on the battlefields, but also of the young men and women of that period who gladly surrendered their hopes and dreams for the future to bring all of us to a new era of well being. I salute them all.