Allen, who is Bradley County’s only Pearl Harbor survivor, was on KP duty peeling potatoes behind the mess hall when he saw what looked like a large flock of geese in the distance. It was the first attack wave of Japanese bombers intent upon destroying the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. A total of 361 Japanese aircraft were launched from six carriers … the most powerful carrier task force ever assembled up to that point.
When the two-hour raid was over, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was badly crippled. Almost 2,400 American lives were lost, including 68 civilians, and 1,178 were wounded. Twelve U.S. warships were damaged or destroyed along with 323 military aircraft. The Japanese had lost just 29 planes, a small price to pay in a battle that allowed them to move almost unopposed across the Pacific and gobble up strategic places like the Philippines, Guam, Guadalcanal, Hong Kong and Thailand.
The day after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress that Dec. 7, 1941, is “a day which will live in infamy.” America had been drawn into World War II.
Some 60,000 U.S. military personnel were on the island of Oahu when the surprise attack occurred. Seven decades later there are only an estimated 3,000 survivors still physically able to participate in annual Pearl Harbor observances scattered across the country. One such observance will take place tomorrow, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m. at VFW Post 2598 on North Ocoee Street.
The 89-year-old Allen, who is my friend, will be the guest speaker. Like all Pearl Harbor survivors, he is a little older, greyer and a little slower, but the spirit of patriotism still burns in his heart. I look forward to shaking his hand and thanking him for his service to our country. I invite you to join me there and help keep alive the memory of the brave soldiers and sailors who gave their lives for their country on that fateful day in 1941.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc. is recognized by Congress as the official organization of the survivors of the attack. The Association’s national secretary, 88-year-old Gery Porter, acknowledges that we are coming to the end of an era. Time marches on and age is taking its toll. Since the organization’s formation in 1958, members have traveled to Honolulu every five years for their convention. However, on Dec. 7, 2006, only 100 survivors were physically able to make the trip. It was the group’s last convention in Hawaii.
The challenge now is to keep their memory and sacrifice alive. Hopefully, this will be done with the assistance of an organization called the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors Inc. The group’s mission is to preserve the memory and history of the attack by passing the survivors’ stories down from generation to generation. It has about 3,000 members and growing.
It is believed 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. In May 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that approximately 2,079,000 American veterans are still living. But by Pearl Harbor’s 80th anniversary in 2021, the department estimates, the number of World War II veterans will have shrunk to just 158,000. No doubt all Pearl Harbor survivors will be gone.
The year 1941 was a pivotal point in American History and a critical time in the shaping of this nation. We owe a great debt to the Pearl Harbor veterans, living and dead, as well as the veterans of all military branches who fought to preserve the freedom we enjoy today.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A nation that forgets its heroes will someday surely perish.” Please take a moment tomorrow on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day to reflect upon their sacrifice and honor the courageous men and women who risked their lives for the American people.