Every December 7th, the first posts I see on Facebook and Twitter are about Pearl Harbor. Or were … this year those posts didn’t appear until later in the day and seemed fewer and far between, nor did there appear to be the normal number of news articles commemorating the attack. I could have imagined all this, but it feels true, and is backed up by social media comments from others who think they observed the same thing.
In past years I marked Pearl Harbor day with social media and blog posts of my own. I didn’t feel like it this time around. What else is there to say that I haven’t already? It’s not my generation’s memory, or yours for that matter.
Did I hear there are just two Pearl Harbor attack survivors still alive? That may be what’s going on. The day that lives in infamy is losing immediacy because those for whom it had immediacy are gone. It’ll always be an important historical event, at least to Americans (and of course the Japanese), but it’s moving toward Battle of Bull Run territory … something we learn about from books, not from grandparents and great-grandparents who were there.
Which is not to say I’m any less fascinated by this historical event. I count myself lucky to have met and talked with a Pearl Harbor survivor. My family and I were stationed at Hickam Field for almost four years. I worked at Pacific Air Forces headquarters, a building still scarred by 20mm cannon shells from attacking Japanese fighter-bombers, located adjacent to the entrance channel to Pearl Harbor. We lived in a historic pre-WWII Army Air Corps bungalow on the channel’s eastern edge, from which the family occupying it in 1941 would have watched the crippled battleship USS Nevada run itself aground to block the harbor entrance to invading Japanese warships. Pearl Harbor of course was right there (today the two installations are officially one: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam). My daily jogging route took me by the ship repair dry docks and submarine pens on Pearl, and I scouted many a trail for local Hash House Harrier running clubs that incorporated two seldom-visited parts of the military complex, the old coastal defense artillery installation at Fort Kamehameha, and Ford Island, still looking much as it did on the fateful day.
But it was my father’s war, not mine. As that generation passes, the attack on Pearl Harbor seems ever more their memory, not ours. I guess that’s only natural.
Chuck Yeager, though … tributes to his memory flooded social media and the news the evening of December 7th and all the next day. Yeager was 97; very much a member of the Pearl Harbor-WWII generation. His famous test flight of October 14, 1947, during which he became the first pilot to officially break the sound barrier, is ancient history as well. Yet that flight, and Yeager’s achievement, somehow retains its immediacy. Maybe because supersonic flight is still kind of a big deal? Who knows?
Here’s to you, General Yeager, an aviator’s aviator, sharp to the end (his last tweet, posted December 3rd, was about his experience test flying the M2-F1 lifting body, which “handled fine”).
© 2020, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.