Tuesday, December 7, 2010
My sister's birthday is today. She was Kacky Boo-Boo as a toddler, and now she is a beautiful Kathryn....or Boo, which lingers on with love. As a child, I remember that folks would suggest that we should have named her Pearline since she was born on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7. Others have said she should change her birthday not to have it associated with Pearl Harbor. I could not imagine why.
Not having lived that event personally, I felt disconnected with the depth of feelings - anger, betrayal and retribution - that many Americans of that generation experienced. I came to understand through the unfolding of the decades more fully, and see how that event as a part of the war surrounding it was a defining moment for countless Americans. It was the furnace where white-hot coals seared memories and convictions into the hearts and minds of millions. It is like many things in life: you had to be there to understand. I was not.
But I glimpsed through stories of family members' military service told with immense pride and of my father's efforts as a school boy to sacrifice for the war effort, a patriotism not palpable to my generation during the 1960's and 1970's. We missed it. We were the generation of Vietnam protests and flag burnings on the nightly news. We might not have shared that view, but we were surrounded by such images shrouding our view of service to country and commitment to defend the home of the brave.
Then September 11, 2001 happened to ignite a flame under the collective consciousness of another generation of Americans who were inexperienced at being attacked on our soil. A new righteous indignation surfaced, creating a swelling popularity of American flag displays on cars and homes by people who had been fat and lazy, patriotically speaking. American flag sales soared. Magnetic flag decals appeared at convenience store check out stands, and people were buying them! The national anthem was actually sung by some at fall 2001 football games - I remember well - rather than merely listened to by sports fans.
Those events and our nation's subsequent efforts to counter future attacks have changed the way we 'live and move and have our being' more than we might have imagined. Who could have envisioned the present preposterous protocol for air travel: undressing and being patted down by strangers before boarding a plane?
And yesterday I learned where my nephew, a proud United States Marine, will be serving this nation as his generation continues the thankless task and relentless pursuit of defending the land of the free and the home of the brave. The legacy of honor and duty continues.
Thank you is too small a word for the debt we owe those who have served with courage and valor. Most of us will never know what it cost...and it is our loss. But we can remember. And give thanks. World War II veterans are a dying breed of great Americans. An 18 year old who enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attack would be 87 today. Count the number of 90 year old men you know.
So here's to Mr. Ridgway, Mr. Powell, Mr. Sorey, and others we know among the dwindling corps of servicemen who sailed and flew and belly-crawled in places we know nothing about.
We are grateful.
Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Center. Donation of Dr. Robert L. Scheina, 1970.