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December 7, 2005

Some folks seem to believe it's too late to be thinking about World War II, but that does not include the men who were swept up in that maelstrom. For them, the war will never end, and its beginning will never be forgotten. Thank goodness, all of those memories are not grim, and it's true that at least a few of them have been spruced up with grim humor and some have even been spiced with a bit of comic exaggeration. It just was not a fun time and you must forgive those guys who now look back with a jaundiced view of what happened to them and to the world in that time frame. Tom Brokaw calls them The Greatest Generation, and he has made millions by retelling their stories. Who can argue with success like that?

Most of us like to tell our friends and others who will take time to listen -- again -- exactly what it was like, 'way back there on December 7, 1941, when the mean little guys who copied everything this country made, then suddenly became our arch enemies. They did not know they also would have to fight John Wayne and a bunch of other guys they never heard of, or knew only as actors on the silver screen. Most of us around here thought the war with Japan would last only a couple of months, but we did not realize that our enemy had taken the precaution of sinking most of our Navy and the sailors who knew how to handle those ships. Turned out the engagement did not stop until we unleashed the first atomic bombs late in the summer of 1945.

But I know you are all dying to hear where I was when I heard the first bad news about Pearl Harbor. On a sunny Sunday morning, three of my friends invited me to join them at a Cokefest in Brownie's Drug Store, on the west side of the square. Donald Laird, who was in charge of the fountain there that day, was tuned to an NBC radio station. The announcer broke into a Glenn Miller music festival to announce that the Island Paradise in the Pacific had been unexpectedly attacked and casualties were going to be pretty high. I had just taken a reporting job with this newspaper a few months earlier, so I finished the Coke and hurried home for a roast beef dinner before reporting to Francis Thetford, the PDJ managing editor, for whatever he wanted me to do. It was a sorry day in every way, but I remember it all, clearly. The war was not good for anyone. Especially the young men and women who perished in it.