Pearl Harbor remembered
By A. Ray Lee
On December 7, 1941, with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, the United States was catapulted into a worldwide conflict which it had tried to avoid. With the explosion of the first bomb on the American fleet the world was forever changed. There are not many of us left who were alive at the time to personally remember the way we felt and to witness the drastic way in which that event affected our nation and lives.
I was five years old and first heard the news of the attack at church on Sunday night. I had never heard of Pearl Harbor and had little understanding of the impact the bombing would have on the life of every American in the following years. But I could sense by the hushed voices of those who relayed the news that something terrible had happened.
At age five I could not understand the catastrophic destruction and death that would occur as the flames of World War II burned unabated around the globe for four more years. Its effect was felt in our church and community as young men enlisted or were drafted for military duty. In every worship service, the congregation prayed for their safety as they completed basic training and were shipped to fields of combat. As time passed many of them received a brief furlough but would not see their homes and families again until victory was won; a victory which for months seemed in question.
I only began to understand the nature and extent of the war when I entered the first grade in the fall of 1942. It is where I first heard the mantra “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor and go on to victory.” I also learned the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. Each morning boys vied with each other to be the one who held the flag or to lead the salute to it as we began class.
I learned the personal effect the war had on families. Falkville School was located one block off old Highway 31. One day while we were at recess a long convoy of military vehicles passed. When they had moved out of sight a classmate was crying inconsolably. Her family was grieving the loss of a loved one who had died in battle. In the following months, I learned the names of faraway and exotic places where our men were fighting.
My father had been exempted from military duty because of his age, family, and occupation as a farmer. But in his extended family, and that of my mother, were numerous relatives who served diligently. My father’s brother, Clarence, drove supplies over the dangerous Burma Road. My mother’s brother Jim, who had enlisted a few months before the war began, was a gunner on a B-24 bomber. He was on duty in the Aleutian Islands when Dutch Harbor was attacked as a diversion to the battle of Midway. Before the war was over other kin were deployed over Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. To my knowledge, they all survived physically, but each came home with emotional scars.
With the development of the atom bomb and its use to end the war the world plunged into the atomic era which soon became a nuclear one. Mankind has lived in fear of annihilation of all living things for almost a century. Indeed, we should remember Pearl Harbor and its eventual results. It has shaped our nation and our lives more than later generations understand.