December 7, 2014

"Remembering" Pearl Harbor

"Remembering" Pearl Harbor
Let's be the overwhelming majority of us December 7th is not a "Date that will live in infamy". Now I'm not downplaying the significance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but how many of us know the significance of June 28th, 1914* or even May 6th, 1937**?

There are undoubtedly a group of Pearl Harbor Survivors still alive, but on today, the 73rd anniversary of the bombing, there are far fewer than there were last year, and common sense dictates there will be fewer still next year. I don't "remember" Pearl Harbor because I wasn't around then, even though that one fixed-point in time is rather important for my existence. You see my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, was a "young petty officer" on board the USS Tennessee during the attack. The fortunate intersection of luck and fate that day saw my grandfather surviving the bombing and going on to raise my mother and her family. Had fortunes gone a different way I literally would not have been born.

That's kind of heavy. While I can think back to a personal close call or two in my life, I can't go back to a single day in history and pin-point a singular historical event that has such an impact.

So on an anniversary like today I don't actually "remember" Pearl Harbor in the traditional sense. I do think of my grandfather and my all-too-fleeting memories of him. I remember he loved his orchids, wasn't very outspoken, but was there if you needed him or not. Now I'm sure my aunts and uncles would have different memories, especially since they were Navy Brats and all that entails, but in my earliest memories he was retired.

At my grandmother's funeral one of my cousins reminded me of a story that was about her, but in many ways about him just as much. After a family trip to Disney World my grandparents decided they'd drive all four grand-kids from Florida back to Iowa. You know that had to be a special kind of hell driving four pre-teens half-way across the US. We'd drive for a while, stop at a motel, and we'd all get to go swimming, which was a rare treat. Now my grandmother expected the grandkids to open doors for her and generally be little gentlemen, or at least as much as 8-12 year-olds can be. One night we all piled out of the car and practically ran to the pool. After a while of having fun someone asked where grandma was. My grandfather just replied, "I don't know...who let her out of the car?" We ran to the car, dripping wet and apologetic as we opened the door for her. She was just sitting there, saying her rosary (probably for us), and simply thanked us for getting the door.

Now on the surface that shows the kind of lady my grandmother is and she deserves more than a quick story, but it also speaks volumes about my grandfather. He knew damned well we had forgotten about her, but reminding us wouldn't have taught us anything. He didn't reprimand us or make us feel guilty, neither of them did. I think of that story often when I open the door for my wife. Now I'll admit I'm probably not as good about it as he was, but thanks to his example I try.

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Medallion
When my grandfather passed away my grandmother was given this Pearl Harbor Survivors Association medallion, in this simple case, with an elegant card. When she passed one of my uncles pretty much took it upon himself to take all of my grandfather's military possessions. He was the only member of the next generation to serve, also as a Naval Officer, and he felt it was his "right". While I don't agree with him, I do understand and in the long run it will probably be best that everything stays together.

This medallion however, wasn't with those things and it was given to me. I keep it above my desk along with one of his medals. While I do open the case a couple times a year to look at it, today is the only day I do so with any regularity.

*Date of assassination for Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
**The date of the Hindenburg Disaster

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