By Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
This year’s Pearl Harbor Day commemoration ceremony theme is “Preserving the Memory”: a commitment to ensure future generations learn and understand the service and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation on Dec. 7, 1941.
It is an honor to welcome back our Pearl Harbor survivors and participate in remembrance ceremonies for them and their fallen comrades. We also welcome back the many family members who are equally dedicated to preserving the memory.
Tom Brokaw named their generation the “Greatest” and for good reason. Those we lost on “the day of infamy” were serving American ideals of freedom, justice and equality for all.
Those who survived the attack 73 years ago had their innocence taken away from them — life’s expectations were overturned as new priorities for survival prevailed. Plans were changed and aligned with the march to war. Their lives were transformed forever. And so was the rest of the world.
As we preserve the memory, one thing we must keep, understand and cherish is the sense of brotherhood — the bond — felt by our World War II Greatest Generation. You can see that strong sense of kinship today among our Pearl Harbor survivors who helped unite all Americans.
The bond of kinship on the battlefield has been a powerful force in all our conflicts, including both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. Today, it’s no different. Many veterans, including wounded warriors, return willingly and repeatedly to fight the war against violent extremists alongside their brothers and sisters.
And the bond can last a lifetime.
Many of our Pearl Harbor survivors were teenagers on Dec. 7, 1941. Now, 73 years later, they return to honor their shipmates.
This week, Navy Region Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor survivors liaison Jim Taylor will conduct no fewer than four burial services for Sailors who wish to return and remain with their brothers in Pearl Harbor forever.
The bond is strong. It goes beyond friendship. It’s like saying, “You are part of my family, and I will die to protect you. Your life is more important than my own.”
Perhaps if we understand and fully appreciate that bond we can learn how to apply it universally, collectively. And when we fully comprehend commitment beyond our own self-interest, we can preserve the peace and freedom we enjoy.
This week’s series of commemorative ceremonies will help us better appreciate and value the importance of our survivors’ contributions.
The Greatest Generation Pearl Harbor survivors were resilient. They buried their shipmates, repaired their ships and spent the next four years in combat. While in combat they buried more shipmates. They provided a common sense of purpose— “Remember Pearl Harbor”— that connected all Americans in a new sense of patriotism.
Most important, their common cause helped transform the world: More freedom and democracy, more prosperity, more civil rights —with greater equality for women, the beginning of less discrimination and more integration.
As Tom Brokaw writes in “The Greatest Generation,” most of the veterans of the war were ready to go to work. They didn’t ask for a handout from the government, but a grateful nation offered the G.I. Bill that helped them get an education, job skills and an opportunity to excel.
Those who survived never forgot the friends and brothers they lost or the common cause for which they fought.
I encourage you to meet and thank the veterans of World War II who are on the waterfront or out in town this week. And I hope to see you Sunday morning at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center as we honor and preserve the memory of these members of the Greatest Generation.