Cottrel: Take time to remember, honor Pearl Harbor


There are certain dates in history that everyone remembers. Independence Day on the Fourth of July is probably at the top of the list. It would be followed closely by Sept. 11 and Dec. 7. The mere mention of these dates alone brings on a waterfall of facts, memories, feelings, images, and emotion. It is important that they do.

It is hard to believe that Sept. 11 happened 16 years ago, and most people under the age of 20 years have no memory of the attack or of a world before 9/11. It was a generation ago.

Dec. 7 is this Thursday. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened 76 years ago in 1941.

The youngest of the sailors, soldiers, or Marines who witnessed the attack are at least 94 years old. Very few are still with us. Someday in the not too distant future it will be announced that the last Pearl Harbor survivor has passed on. It will be a sad day.

When I was on the staff of a naval base newspaper in Hawaii during the 1980s, I had the honor of meeting many Pearl Harbor survivors. The trip back to Hawaii was important for them and for us too. As well documented as the Attack on Pearl Harbor was, there was still much to learn from the survivors, details that had not been recorded. The observations of eye witnesses are essential to telling the whole story.

Last year when I interviewed Rolla Edward Malan I was fascinated to hear his memories of that fateful day. Even though I had interviewed so many before, Ed Malan told me things I did not know. He told the story from his perspective and filled in more of the story for me. I’m thankful he shared his memories with us before he passed away this August at the age of 97. May he rest in peace.

Today no one under the age of 80 remembers where they were when they heard of the attack. A few years ago I asked my parents how they learned of the attack and both replied that it was such a normal Sunday until the radio reports came in. There were no televisions. Families and friends huddled around large radio sets to get the news. It was a scary time that changed the world.

There were no images in the newspapers for at least a day. To see “video” of the devastation Americans flocked to the movie theaters to see the black and white news reels the next week.

Even though news reporting has changed drastically, I still think the black and white documentary by director John Ford does the best job relating how it was back then.

This week take time to ask your senior family members how they learned about Pearl Harbor. Listen to their stories and record their comments for posterity. Your great grandchildren will someday read the family story and thank you for preserving it. It is good for later generations to know how a world event personally touched their ancestors.

The members of our “Greatest Generation” truly did face and triumph over incredible challenges. They fought and they persevered. There is still much that we can learn from these amazing people, military heroes and civilian heroes on the home front. We should never forget it took the entire country working together to win.

On Dec. 7 take time to remember. Don’t forget Pearl Harbor.



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