Our “too hard” is nothing to their sacrifice: Pearl Harbor at 73

December 7, 2014
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Every year at this time I ask readers to travel back to a time when in just two hours, the dreams of a nation were forever changed and the lives we live today were forged.

But first, a view of the platform from which we will depart.

On the rare occasion when I get a stay at home weekend, the morning starts off with a fresh cup of coffee, a climb up the stairs, and a settling into my little corner of the world.  The desk is an old roll top I picked up second hand years ago and the chair should have been replaced when I bought the desk but it fits and it works, so it stays.

At eye level, directly ahead, a souvenir book brought back for me by a dear friend titled:  USS Arizona – Ship’s Data.  At 12 o’clock high behind that book a mounted model of a B-17 Flying Fortress.

At 3 o’clock, an autographed print of Ensign George Gay in foreground, his Douglas TBD Devastator in the back.  Gay was the sole of survivor of Torpedo Squadron 8’s ill-fated attack against Japanese carriers during the battle of Midway.

At 10 o’clock, sitting atop the corner bookcase, the flag that draped the coffin of a prisoner of war captured during the Anzio break out operations in 1944.  The young man in uniform in the frame beside that flag would be freed a year later but would spend the rest of his life a prisoner to the memories of the hell put to him by his captors.  As the only American in his barracks who also spoke German, he didn’t just see it as it happened, he knew what was coming.  Try carrying that with you for the rest of your life.

It is within that corner that Geoff Caldwell columnist becomes Geoff Caldwell eternally grateful and forever humbled speck of insignificance.

Ever so thankful that no matter what my trials, they are nothing in comparison to what was forced upon those living that morning of Sunday, December 7th 1941.

By the time the planes left the Hawaiian sky that Sunday morn, over 2,000 Americans would never dream again and the 133 million plus who could would never do so in the way they had just one night before.

For the next three and a half years an entire nation would put its collective dreams on hold as each and every individual, of every race, creed, sex and religion united behind one common cause:  unconditional surrender.

By the time it was over there would be American graves from Berlin to Bougainville, Tarawa to Tripoli.  The sacrifice would be unprecedented, and the resolve of the entirety of America forever scribed in the annals of history.

So when I hear professors and pundits today pontificating that the American dream is dead I get angry.

The defeatist attitude is one thing, but the disrespect such shows to those who truly did have their dreams shattered is quite another.

Making it worse is the fact that there is just enough ignorance of history out there that such attitudes are actually given credence by some.

And I get absolutely livid when I hear “it’s just too hard today”.

Hard is waking up in your bunk on a peaceful Sunday morning and an hour later, lungs seared and eyes burning, struggling to stay alive among the dead bodies and burning fuel oil that is your new existence.

Hard is knowing you have no fighter cover but start your torpedo run anyway knowing full well you will most likely die before you ever get close enough to release said torpedo.

Hard is leaving the peace of the Kansas prairie and a year later finding yourself in one of the worst stalags in Germany.

The hard of now isn’t even a sliver of the hard the Pearl Harbor generation faced.

That may be uncomfortable for some to hear but it’s something that all need to hear, loud and clear, each and every day of each and every year.

Those who went before us sacrificed their future for our present.  They gave us this chance that we are living today.

We owe them better than to squander it because it’s just “too hard”.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the December 7th, 2014 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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