Pearl Harbor Is History, around Us Is Living History

By Paige, Harry W. | National Catholic Reporter, February 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

Pearl Harbor Is History, around Us Is Living History


Paige, Harry W., National Catholic Reporter


Dec. 7, 1998, was the 57th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, At 7:55 a.m. on that date in 1941, the Japanese began a devastating 3-hour attack on the American naval base there. Six American battleships were sunk, over 2,400 people were killed and 1,100 more were wounded. For a generation of Americans, life would be forever different; for some of that generation, life would end.

But the date that President Roosevelt said would "live in infamy" eventually passed into the quiet of history. For the first time in my memory, no story of Pearl Harbor or its survivors appeared on the national television news. On a local channel, four or five old men gathered to honor a memory. Several wore caps proclaiming them "Pearl Harbor Survivors." A tape recorder played "Taps" as the old men struggled with their separate yesterdays.

A young reporter asked one of them why he was there. The old man leaned on his cane and answered that his presence was something he owed the dead. There were no spectators watching the ceremony, and before it was over the sky sunk like a lid on the day.

At Pearl Harbor there was a ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial, directly over the wreckage where 1,177 crew members lost their lives and were entombed. A band played. A number of survivors remembered their comrades with words and tears. There were speeches, and a formation of F-15s flew over in the "missing man" formation. Flower petals were dropped down a well, and oil continues to leak a drop at a time from the ruins below, like a miser's dark tears.

The military will continue to observe this sort of remembrance because its members still walk the thin red line and because the ceremonial recognition of battles won and lost is part of their tradition. Religion will remember because the living and the dead still need each other's help and hope. History will remember because it continues to be made and recorded. Texans will remember the Alamo. There are other places that force themselves upon us, such as Yorktown, Gettysburg and Wounded Knee.

All of this, however, represents the artificial attempt to summon up a past that is no longer present. Then there is living history, that part of the past that still makes a live and hurting connection, still celebrated as only living memory can celebrate -- quietly, sorrowfully, prayerfully. …

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