On Pearl Harbor Day

December 7, 2010–

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s stirring words 69 years ago (tomorrow) called America to war against the empire of Japan. But as I wrote on the occasion of D-Day, memory fades as we age away from the critical moments of our lives, and direct experience is replaced with indirect knowledge. My parents were both 3 when Japanese forces attacked the U.S. base, and my mother recalls the moment when, driving with her parents, news broke through on the radio. Since a relative was stationed at the naval base, they turned around for home to find out what was happening. She has direct memory of that event.

But as the population ages, fewer Americans remember the day. Here is a story about some aging veterans who were present in Hawaii that day, who remember when their number counted in the dozens, rather than three.

I did some calculating based on U.S. Census population data and determined that, in 2004, the percentage of the U.S. population over 65 was 17%. That is to say, 17% of Americans were at least about 2-years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Five years later, that percentage dropped to 9%. Put another way, today less than 10% of Americans were alive on the date which will live in infamy.

Flags flew at half staff/mast today. We continue to say “remember,” as we should. We honor the veterans who fought and died in those times (and at all times). But as history recedes, direct memory fades and dies away. We who came after such times should seek out the stories of the older generations, so we who cannot remember can study the past, and carry what we have learned into the future.

– Fred Dews

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