Pearl Harbor, 82 Years Later: What Do The Kids Know?
Pearl Harbor, 82 Years Later: What Do The Kids Know?
Today marks the 82nd anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy.” It has been 82 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor which officially launched the United States into World War II.
The details of the day have been well recorded, analyzed, and preserved. Sadly, we are on the verge of saying goodbye to the last living eyewitnesses to Pearl Harbor, as the Greatest Generation continues to pass on and leave us only with their memories, and not their presence.
The aging pool of Pearl Harbor survivors has been rapidly shrinking. There is now just one crew member of the USS Arizona still living, 102-year-old Lou Conter of California. Two years ago, survivors who attended the 80th anniversary remembrance ceremony ranged in age from 97 to 103. They’ll be even older this time.
David Kilton, the National Park Service’s interpretation, education and visitor services lead for Pearl Harbor, noted that for many years survivors frequently volunteered to share their experiences with visitors to the historic site. That’s not possible anymore.
“We could be the best storytellers in the world and we can’t really hold a candle to those that lived it sharing their stories firsthand,” Kilton said. “But now that we are losing that generation and won’t have them very much longer, the opportunity shifts to reflect even more so on the sacrifices that were made, the stories that they did share.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t keep statistics for how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still living. But department data show that of the 16 million who served in World War II, only about 120,000 were alive as of October and an estimated 131 die each day.
Which leaves us with a very troubling question: who is going to be left to tell future generations why this day, this attack at Pearl Harbor, is so important?
Dec. 7, 2023, marks the 82nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Japan’s attack began at 7:55 a.m. and lasted 75 minutes. It obliterated most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Up until 9/11, it was the deadliest attack in the country’s history, as 2,400 perished during the assault. Dec. 7 was a day that defined a generation, but as time slowly passed, the date grew less meaningful each year.
Eventually, the relevance of Dec. 7 will be forgotten, and it will become just another calendar date.
But it is essential not to let that happen. We must never forget the legacy of those who fought and died and the spirit of a generation who fought to preserve freedom from some of history’s deadliest monsters. Moreover, the appropriately dubbed “Greatest Generation” who fought at Pearl Harbor and World War II could teach a thing or two to today’s youths about real trauma, pain, suffering, and tragedies. The bravery of the men and women in their early 20s who fought and died in 1941 starkly contrasts with the privileged youngsters of today.
In 2023, we live in an era when today’s youths lose their marbles over comedians telling jokes. Could you imagine their reactions if they saw bombs dropping from a plane in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service?
Men at Pearl Harbor had to worry about being blown to smithereens by a Japanese bomb, but today, we console anyone offended by a Dave Chappelle joke. What would those who died defending the country think of our society today? It’s a sad reflection of how far society has fallen from Pearl Harbor.
Today’s generation proudly celebrates their perceived intellectual and moral superiority over the generations of yesteryear. They have been brainwashed to think their feelings matter more than anything. However, this infantilization has made them weak. They flaunt their supposed “emotional intelligence” but lose their composure over the slightest inconvenience. They couldn’t handle walking a single step in the shoes of the people in 1941.
And what do the kids today actually know, and what are they being told, about Pearl Harbor?
Sadly, the significance of these events was not something I learned about in school. I learned facts about Pearl Harbor and World War II, but no one who had me as their captive audience rolled up their sleeve, Crispin’s Day–style, to show their scars. Nor did anyone tell of the feats done at Pointe du Hoc or Mount Suribachi, when an army of farm boys and city folk dared the most extraordinary feats of heroism, deeds rarely attempted before or since in the annals of anyone’s history. We have to fight hard to keep them alive in the public memory.
For, all too often, the heroism of one generation provides the kind of security and prosperity that often spoils the following generation. The greatest generation inadvertently produced a generation of hippies and rebels who went to college and found themselves easy marks just as the “long march through the institutions” got underway. The problem — a loss of confidence in God, meaning, truth, America’s purpose and ideals, everything — grows worse each year, and the heroic deeds of our forebearers fade along with it into the background. Dec. 7 is seemingly no longer a day of “infamy” but instead one of ignorance, a day few remember with each passing year despite being one we ought to. After all, the sacrifices, casualties, and heroism foreshadowed the momentous days that followed until the war’s end in 1945.
We are currently watching Holocaust-level denial occuring in real time in our colleges and universities, so it is a legitimate concern that history, and the significance of what happened at Pearl Harbor, could easily be lost. Soon enough, it will be lost as a living memory. Without active instruction, it will be lost to time, only preserved in museums for those who care to look.
So, how do we fix this? First of all, we adults must be educated. What do you know about Pearl Harbor? How much do you know about it? If a high school student came to you and said, “tell me what you know about December 7, 1941, and the attack on Pearl Harbor,” would you be able to give a semi-cohesive overview of what happened? Or would you quickly be turning to Google and YouTube to supply answers? A Hollywood movie is a start, but never enough. The work begins with us, the adults. In this day and age, with the wealth of information available to us – literally in our pockets – it means reading books, it means watching history videos and documentaries, it means going back to the source material and newsreels.
Now, a trip to Hawaii in this day and age is easy to plan, but expensive to do. So, I get it. Our family went this last July to visit family currently stationed on Oahu. The last time we went to Hawaii, we only took our oldest child to Pearl Harbor, because the others were too young or not mature enough to understand the gravity of the place. This latest trip was seven years after the first one. My kids have gotten older, and have matured enough for everyone but my youngest to grasp the significance of visiting Pearl Harbor. (My youngest is ten, and is both ADHD and autistic.) Logistically, visiting Pearl Harbor itself is not easy. Restrictions that were put in place during COVID have changed how people are able to visit the USS Arizona memorial – there is now a ticket reservation system managed by a government website, and while there is the option of waiting on standby to go, it is not recommended – and going to Ford Island (still an active Naval base) to see the USS Oklahoma memorial or the USS Utah memorial requires a reservation as well, and all ticket reservations charge a dollar a ticket as a “service fee” online. (Visiting Pearl Harbor itself is still free because it is managed through the National Park Service as a museum and memorial, but there are other museums at Pearl Harbor that are not managed by the National Parks, and do charge admission.) Parking at Pearl Harbor is also limited, though transportation there is often provided by tour groups (or you can just have an Uber drop you off).
But the effort was worth it. When you are standing in a place where history happened, it becomes so much more real. When you read names on a memorial wall, they become real people. When you stand inside the memorial, knowing that the final resting place of so many of these men are right under your feet, in the relatively shallow waters of the harbor below, it has a gravity that can’t be conveyed on a YouTube video.
If we want the next generation to know about Pearl Harbor, and learn from what happened there, then we need to take them there. They have to see the adults in their lives value and appreciate the opportunity to go, and they need to see the respect and the honor that we wish to give those who made the ultimate sacrifice on this day. Short of taking them there, the kids need to see us working to preserve the memory of what happened on December 7, 1941, by learning about it ourselves. If the lockdowns taught us nothing, it should have taught us that schools cannot be trusted to cover what we want our kids to know. If we are to instruct the kids about days like today, they need to see us putting in the work to teach them.
Today is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Pause and remember those lives lost on what would become a "Date which will live in infamy". 🇺🇸 #PearlHarbor82 #PearlHarborRemembranceDay ￼ pic.twitter.com/jKFDfWAC0c
— USS Arizona (@USSArizona) December 7, 2023
May the memory of those who gave their lives on this day live forever in honored glory.
Featured image: inside the USS Arizona memorial on July 9, 2023; photo by Deanna Fisher, all rights reserved