73rd commemoration of Dec. 7, 1941: ‘Preserving the Memory’

Gen. Lori J. Robinson

Gen. Lori J. Robinson

Gen. Lori J. Robinson

Commander, Pacific Air Forces

(This is an excerpt from a speech given by Gen. Robinson at the 73rd commemoration of Dec. 7, 1941 ceremony.)

The events of Dec. 7, 1941 served as a turning point in our nation’s history. Although the attacks occurred so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and in such tragic proportions, our reluctant nation emerged to fight and ultimately win World War II.

For me, it is difficult to imagine the events of that Sunday morning, 73 years ago. Even as it was a day of sacrifice and loss, it was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism. Countless brave Americans not only rallied in response to the attacks but fought intrepidly in the many years of war that followed.

Today, we are joined by four of the nine living USS Arizona survivors: Don Stratton, Lauren Bruner, Lou Conter, and John Anderson. The stories of these survivors are nothing short of amazing.

This afternoon, they are holding a service aboard the USS Arizona Memorial. They will toast their fallen shipmates and other survivors with a glass of wine given to their association by President Ford in 1975. After they toast, they will hand one of the glasses to a team of Navy and National Park Service divers who will place it at the base of the Arizona’s gun turret four.

Through these memorial services, new memories are created and preserved, as the remaining glasses will become artifacts maintained by the National Park Service.

Gun turret four is significant because it is also the final resting spot for survivors of the attack who wish to have their ashes placed at their former battle station. And so, since 1980, 38 Arizona survivors have been reunited with their brothers back on the ship.

When the Arizona sank, she took with her 1,177 Sailors and Marines. Many families paid an enormous price as a result of the attack. Among those who perished were 30 sets of brothers, to include three families who lost all three of their sons.

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) conduct a pass-in-review by the USS Arizona Memorial during the 73rd Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration. U.S. Navy Photo by MC2 Johans Chavarro

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) conduct a pass-in-review by the USS Arizona Memorial during the 73rd Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration. U.S. Navy Photo by MC2 Johans Chavarro

These men fought together as brothers in arms, and now they rest side by side in their watery grave. Although they gave their last full measure of devotion to our nation, their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

The heroic resolve displayed during the attacks was not limited to just our military. At Hickam Field, we owe many thanks to the Honolulu Fire Department. After receiving the alarm at 08:05 in the morning, Engine Companies 1, 4 and 6 were dispatched to respond. Without knowing it, the Honolulu Fire Department was going to war. Three fire-fighters would never return, and six others would be seriously wounded.

It is critical our nation preserves the memory of these events, not only to honor those who sacrificed so much, but to capture the stories and lessons learned. The letters, diaries, photographs and interviews from this time are a national treasure.

And, they are used to educate, commemorate and memorialize the greatest generation and their sacrifice. By honoring our past, we inspire our future and assure the events of this day, 73 years ago, are not forgotten.

Our Pacific Airmen are reminded of the events of Dec. 7, 1941 as they walk into work at the PACAF Headquarters building every day. In 1941, our headquarters building was a 3,000-man barracks, making it a major target for the attack. Among other damage, a 500-pound bomb was dropped in the center of the building, instantly killing 35 men. Today, the walls still bear shrapnel and bullet holes. And, when they walk past these battle-scarred walls, they are reminded of the perseverance, courage and valor of our Pacific Airmen.

In the headquarters lies a memorial called the Courtyard of Heroes. In it sits a display case that houses the flag which flew over Hickam Field during the attack. After a failed bombing attempt on the flag, Japanese Zeros attempted to cut the flag off the flagpole with a heavy stream of bullets. Although torn and tattered, Old Glory continued to wave in the midst of all of the destruction.

Now, as it did then, it symbolizes the unbreakable American spirit. Today, the flag is encased in a koa wood display. Koa wood is native to the islands, and “koa” is also a Hawaiian word for “warrior.” The flag became a warrior in its own right on Dec. 7, 1941, and it is fitting to encase it in the wood of the warrior. As our nation rebalances to the Asia-Pacific region, I assure you the current generation of American warriors stands ready.

May God bless you and all of our military and civil servicemen and women, both past and present, who have bravely answered our nation’s call time and time again—and who have never failed us.

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Category: News