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A Day Of Infamy

December 11, 2012
Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

As one drove around the area on Friday, you might have noticed flags flying at half-staff, and many might not have given that fact a second thought.

But there are some who remember - and a few who know why the flags flew at half staff on a very personal basis.

A quiet Sunday morning, 71 years ago, at 6:55 a.m., the empire of Japan launched the United States into World War II?with a sneak attack on the home base of the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet at Peal Harbor, Hawaii. Waves of Japanese planes bombed Pear Harbor itself, crippling the fleet, destroying battleships and claiming thousands of American lives, along with airfields and other military installations on the island. Miniature submarines also penetrated the harbor during the attack, trying to inflict additional damage.

The following morning, before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941 as "a day which will live in infamy" for the American people.

"Remember Pearl Harbor"?became a rallying cry for the war effort in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War and for many, many years after the war was over.

Even when the hostilities ended, reminders of that Sunday morning in December remained at Pearl Harbor. The most well known reminder is the U.S.S. Arizona, BB39. The giant battleship, riding at anchor on "Battleship Row", adjacent to Ford Island in the harbor, sank in minutes when a Japanese bomb penetrated the decks and found its way into a powder magazine, causing a massive explosion that led the giant ship to settle to the bottom of the harbor, killing and trapping hundreds of her crew inside shattered compartments.

The U.S. Navy made attempts following the attack to retrieve the bodies of crewmen trapped in the wreckage, but the dangers of unexploded gases trapped in pockets in the ship, along with the utter destruction of the interior of the Arizona proved too dangerous.

By an act of Congress, the U.S.S. Arizona was declared a national cemetery for those still entombed in her shattered hulk. A sleek memorial that spans the beam of the mighty warship rises over the sunken hulk, and in the shallow waters of the harbor, one can see the hulk of the battlewagon, now encrusted with coral after 71 years. Marker buoys attached to the bow and the stern mark the length of the ship, as it sits on the bottom next to the giant concrete anchoring blocks it was tied to that morning.

Small rainbow patterns on the water's surface trail away from the Arizona, as fuel oil from her tanks continues to seep to the surface. The ship's tanks had been filled the morning before the attack, and will continue to slowly seep, drop by drop, for many years to come.

The names of each crewmember who lost their life that fateful morning on the day of infamy is engraved on a wall inside the memorial over the Arizona's hulk. For many who were on the ship that morning and survived the attack, it has also become their final resting place as well, as many have had their ashes placed on the ship's hull following their passing so that they could join their shipmates in the eternal rest.

While the Arizona Memorial pays a silent yet powerful tribute to those who lost their lives at the start of World War II, the U.S.S. Missouri is anchored adjacent to the Arizona, with the deck plate marking the spot where the official surrender of the Japanese Empire was signed in Tokyo Bay in 1945 to end the bloody conflict and bring the reality of Pearl Harbor and World War II?full-circle.

We remembered Pearl Harbor with the flying of our flags at half-staff on Friday, as a way to honor those who served, survived and returned home, and also to honor those who left their homes and loved ones and never came home, all in the hope that our lives would continue to be free and our way of life would prevail.

December 7 should be a day that should always be remembered - out of respect, not out of requirement.



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