By the time you read this, my girls and I will be gathering with Pearl Harbor veterans in Dallas, Texas for the 75th anniversary of "The day that will live in Infamy."
I can't believe this anniversary is finally here. It's overwhelming. It is not like any other anniversary. There is a sense of finality. There is a feeling of urgency, beauty and hope all wound up into one gigantic emotion.
I also feel torn. Many of these men have become our dear friends over the years. Some wondered if they would make the anniversary. Others who hoped to make it, did not.
For many years now, their stories, and the stories of other WWII veterans have nourished our family. Often we have met with them for breakfast during the week, or in nursing homes, or just on the road as we are working on various projects. The journey began for our family in 2001 as Doug started the process of interviewing these men. He created the Faith of our Fathers project to record their stories and help the new generation understand their connection with the past. For Doug, this passion to remember and record actually began when he was a ten year old boy holding a Radio Shack tape recorder in the Norfolk home of Mrs. Douglas McArthur, asking her and other veterans questions on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the treaty on the USS Missouri ending war with Japan. Years later he would premiere his film The League of Grateful Sons, on that same boat, now docked at Pearl Harbor.
But even more important then the stories of these WWII veterans, are the people themselves. They are beautiful. Some are surprisingly spry. Others not. Some are grumpy. Some are funny. Some want to quit. Others feel a renewed sense of purpose. All of them, each one is beautiful to us. And that its why our greatest joy is just being with them, singing, talking, and most importantly, listening. And about once a week I hear the sound of tears when news arrives that one of these beautiful souls has passed into eternity.
Here is what I am telling my children today: 75 years ago a single event captured the attention of the world and changed life for hundreds of millions of people. The men we are with today -- they watched it with their own eyes. They experienced it. They felt it. They remember the sounds of the Japanese Zeros, and the smell of sulfur and burning ships, and the cries for help in the water as if it were yesterday. They are participants to the true story. We think of the attack on Pearl Harbor in newsreels, and black and white images of burning ships, but for these men, even 75 years later, the memories are more real then yesterday's news.
The men we are with today are between the ages of 94 and 100. Soon they will be gone. Every handshake and every hug is so valuable. Someday, maybe even in the 22nd century, you will tell your grandchildren about your handshake with the "day that will live in infamy." Make every second count.
And there is something else I want them to remember. Sometimes it takes tragedy to bring people together again. That happened for America. After Pearl Harbor Americans experienced greater unity then they had ever experienced. It is a reminder that no matter how dark the tragedy, or how vicious the assault, what men mean for evil, God means for good. 75 years later - the enduring legacy of these men are testimony to His mercy, His goodness and His love. In this sense, the maxim "Remember Pearl Harbor" is not merely an anecdote from the past, but a battle cry for all of us: When things look very dark and the future is uncertain, remember the day when God used a tragedy to rally a nation, and rescue the world.