Doug Smith: “A Day which will live in infamy”

7 Dec

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Doug Smith:  Author, historian, lead contributor to FSP and a Navy Chief Electronics Technician Submarine Qualified.

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75 years ago, right now, it was a Saturday evening, in early December. It is 14 years before my birth. An idyllic American outpost crammed with sailors is enjoying their liberty with little drinks full of fruit, pretty Hawaiian girls, and a pleasant tropical sunset. Aboard the USS Oklahoma, and USS West Virginia, and USS Arizona, the duty section was on watch, grumbling no doubt, about having the duty on such a promising night. But at least, they would get relieved in the morning and hit the beach Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Except, of course, they never would be relieved. Many of them would go ashore, later, burned, disfigured, torn to pieces, and gently carried by their shipmates to rest covered by American Flags in a temporary morgue. Many more would begin the painful journey of recovering from battle wounds. Yet for many, their final journey had begun when they took the duty Saturday morning, December 6, 1941. The last day of peace. And for sailors aboard Arizona and Oklahoma, their last day of life.

While most of America slept, a tiger crept toward their beds. Thousands of sailors kept watch; unwarned, unprotected, unready for what few knew, but most disbelieved, was about to happen. American sailors stood watch to keep their homes and loved ones safe, not knowing the hammer blow was about to fall on them. Halsey’s carriers patrolled and watched, but in the wrong direction.

Hundreds of miles to the Northeast, the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Zuikaku, and Shokaku positioned themselves for a predawn attack against our sleeping Navy.

24 hours from now, over 2000 would be dead. Arizona would take her place on the bottom of the harbor, blown 20 feet in the air and sinking in just 9 minutes. There she remains to this day. Oklahoma would capsize, trapping sailors who would die off one by one over the next days and weeks. America would be drawn into a war that would leave half a million Americans dead before it ended, and 10s of millions worldwide.

The world would suffer, bleed, and burn for 4 more years.

But it began with a sneak attack. And it began with American sailors shot, burned, blown up, drowned.

33 years later, on Dec 7, 1974, I would be an American sailor. Those images, and these words: Never forget, were drummed into me.

I never will. I took it personally, what was done to my brothers. I still do. I take any attack on Americans, but in particular on American sailors, very personally.

They were and are my brothers. They will never forget. Nor will I.

Watch. Be alert. Be prepared. Be strong. Those are the lessons of that awful, awful morning 75 years ago.

Get over it? I don’t think so.

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