Take a Moment to Reflect on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

One of the darkest days in our nation’s history occurred 77 years ago today.

In a surprise attack, Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft launched an offensive against our naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

The relentless attack went on for seven hours. It resulted in 2,403 military personnel and civilians being killed, and 1,178 others injured.

Four of our battleships were sunk. Four other battleships, three destroyers, three cruisers and one minelayer were destroyed. In addition, 188 of our aircraft were destroyed. Another 159 aircraft were damaged.

Honoring Those Who Sacrificed So Much

The following day – December 8, 1941 – the U.S. entered World War II. It would be nearly four years before Japan surrendered to Allied forces led by the U.S.

A vast majority of Americans alive today were not yet born when that infamous day occurred nearly 80 years ago.

But we continue to honor the fallen with National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. The official commemoration of this day began in 1944 through a declaration of Congress.

American flags are flown at half-mast throughout the world. Special events are held to honor those killed and injured during the attack. Among the memorials to this event are the USS Arizona and the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor.

Oldest Surviving Veteran Passes Away

There are not many Pearl Harbor survivors still alive from that fateful day. And unfortunately, that number was reduced by one recently when 106-year-old Ray Chavez passed away.

He had been the oldest surviving veteran of Pearl Harbor. Chavez was on a minesweeper named USS Condor when the attack occurred.

Richard Rovsek is a trustee of the Spirit of Liberty Foundation in Rancho Sante Fe in California. Here’s what he said about Chavez during an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Ray was the epitome of the greatest generation. He was always proud to be an American and proud of the military.”

USS Arizona Survivor Still With Us

One of the Pearl Harbor survivors still with us is Donald Stratton. He was a 19-year-old Seaman First Class at the time. He was aboard the USS Arizona when the attack occurred.

One million pounds of explosives detonated under his battle station. He suffered burns across two-thirds of his body.

Another young sailor by the name of Joseph George was aboard the repair ship USS Vestal. He helped Stratton and others pull themselves hand over hand across a tethered rope.

Some 50 feet below them, the harbor was a mixture of water, oil and blood. After being rescued, doctors ordered Stratton’s limbs amputated. He refused and eventually learned to walk again.

Unsung Hero Receives His Due

Stratton turned his true story into a book titled All the Gallant Men: The First Memoir by a USS Arizona Survivor.

He also refused to forget the person who saved his life. Second-class petty officer George had risked his life to save the lives of Stratton and others.

George passed away in 1996, but Stratton didn’t stop trying to bring recognition to the hero.

On December 7, 2017, George finally received his due. His daughter, Joe Ann Taylor, accepted the Bronze Star Medal on his behalf in a ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial.

President Donald Trump declared, “We will always honor and remember a man whose courage knew no limits.”

Stratton to Be Honored

Colorado Springs, where Stratton lives now, will soon have a memorial to their local hero at the airport.

The exhibit will include steel beams from the USS Arizona. They were donated by the Navy to the Pikes Peak Heroes Legacy Committee.

Stratton was born in 1922 and raised in Red Cloud, Nebraska. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy following his high school graduation in 1940.

After recovering from his Pearl Harbor injuries, he re-joined the Navy and was commissioned to the destroyer USS Stack. He served in the New Guinea, Philippines and Okinawa campaigns in the Pacific from 1944 to 1945.

We’re Free Because They Fell

I would strongly encourage everyone reading this to take a few minutes out of your schedule today.

Quietly reflect on the sacrifice that was made by the fallen and the injured at Pearl Harbor 77 years ago.

Be thankful for how countless sailors, pilots and soldiers have shed their blood through the decades so we might experience freedom in the greatest country in the world.

And pray that something like Pearl Harbor will never occur again.

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