This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.
Nearly eight decades after the attack at Pearl Harbor, it remains essential to remember the heroism and the national commitment that followed.
On Dec. 7, 1941 — 78 years ago today — the Empire of Japan engaged in a surprise attack on the United States’ Pacific naval fleet at the harbor in Hawaii. The immediate impact was the death of more than 2,400 Americans and the wounding of more than 1,000 others. The long-range effect transformed global politics, with the attack precipitating American involvement in World War II.
It remains a date that triggered a shared national purpose. The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt articulated that purpose in a speech that remains among the most famous in American history. “Yesterday, Dec. 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy,” Roosevelt famously said. Later, he uttered words that are not as well remembered, but might be more important: “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
It took more than four years for that absolute victory to be realized, and the effort galvanized the United States into the world’s preeminent military and economic power.
The events — and the aftermath — of Dec. 7, 1941, remain worthy of acknowledgment. As the Greatest Generation that was forged through World War II continues to pass on, it perhaps is more important now than ever to reflect on the sense of communal belonging that played a key role in this nation’s righteous might.
It is, indeed, a remarkable generation. Young adults of the World War II era had been steeled by the Great Depression and then endured the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen. Along the way, they defeated an imperialist regime in Japan and a fascist despot in Germany in a triumph that emboldened freedom-loving nations around the globe.
The toll was horrific, with more than 400,000 American military members being killed and at least 70 million people around the world perishing. Despite that cost, the Americans who survived went on to create a middle class that for decades served as the backbone of American prosperity.
World War II had an impact on this nation’s psyche, ethos and sense of self, establishing the United States as a protector of freedom and as a superpower driven by the common goals of her people.
It can be difficult these days to comprehend that commonality, with the nation divided along political and social lines. The fractures and fissures often come to the forefront of the mind, yet they should not overwhelm the sense that we all are Americans and that we all have a stake in the nation’s success and her future.
Remarkably, the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack continues to play out. Earlier this year, the remains of U.S. Navy Musician Second Class Francis E. Dick, a Woodland native, were returned home.
Dick was 20 when he was killed in the Pearl Harbor attack, one of 429 people who died aboard the USS Oklahoma, and he was identified decades later through the work of the Defense PIO/MIA Military Accounting Agency. He was buried in February at Vancouver Barracks next to his brother, Lt. Col. John F. Dick Sr., also a World War II veteran.
Because of Francis Dick and the thousands of others who died at Pearl Harbor, we reflect this weekend on those events of 78 years ago. And we recall the role their sacrifice played in creating the United States we know today.