George Allen 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 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 was “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 attack occurred. Seven decades later there are only an estimated 2,700 survivors still physically able to participate in annual Pearl Harbor observances scattered across the country. One such observance will take place Friday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m. at VFW Post 2598 on North Ocoee Street. My friend, 90-year-old George Allen, will be there.
Like all Pearl Harbor survivors, he is a little older and grayer, and a little slower, but the spirit of patriotism still burns in his heart. I look forward to shaking his hand and again 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 George Bennett, 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. On Dec. 31, 2011, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association officially surrendered its national charter back to the U.S. Congress and formally disbanded the organization.
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. The SDPHS has a growing membership of more than 3,500 with members in all 50 states.
Some 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. A total of 291,557 were killed in battle. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that approximately 1,462,809 American veterans from this war are still living. Another 661,191 have died in the past 12 months. The VA estimates that the number of WW II veterans will have shrunk to just 158,000 by the time of Pearl Harbor’s 80th anniversary in 2021. No doubt, all Pearl Harbor survivors will be gone.
The year of 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 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.