I was born in 1933, the year Hitler rose to power in Germany. His popularity was based on his promise to “Make Germany Great Again.” The consequence of that message was the beginning of World War II. Of course, as a toddler, I wasn’t aware of any international crisis. But I vividly recall a road trip to the West Coast that my family embarked on Sept. 1, 1939.
We heard on the car radio that Germany had invaded Poland. My mom cried and said to my father that we should immediately return home. He gently responded, “No, this may be the last opportunity for our family to travel for many years.” And so it was. I’ll ever remember that moment.
Also, I can still remember my family being glued to the news reports coming from the old RCA radio on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. We paid rapt attention as horrifying descriptions were broadcast of the devastation wreaked upon our Pearl Harbor by a sneak air attack by Imperial Japan. Eight giant American battleships at anchorage were sunk or heavily damaged. Over 2,350 young Americans died, and 1,143 were wounded, plus a tragic number of civilians were killed and wounded by this attack.
On the Monday following, a bereft President Franklin D. Roosevelt standing before Congress declared total war on the Empire of Japan and proclaimed “Dec. 7 is a day that will live in infamy.” For those of us who lived that day, we will always remember next Saturday as the day that is ever infamous. I know I will.
Of course, four years later, America won the unconditional surrender of Japan when we dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima; with a second devastating nuclear attack on Nagasaki. Many saw this action as justifiable vengeance. I would have made the same call as President Truman. But based on the enormous number of Japanese civilians incinerated, I can’t see this as a “quid quo pro” action. I feel quite confident that the Japanese remember Aug. 6 and 9 as infamous memories.
And there have been many more such horrendous events since ’45. But most painful and vivid is the terror of Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was viciously destroyed and when the Pentagon was attacked with many innocent fatalities. This date too will forever live in infamy.
But why drag up all this horror? Because we must never forget. As has been often said by persons wiser than me, “those who don’t own their history, are doomed to repeat it.” We all must remember in sorrow those moments of horror, and then dedicate ourselves to ridding our world of such infamy.
Next Saturday as we recall the devastation, death, and destruction of our Pearl Harbor, may we also pause and dedicate ourselves to never again allowing such horrendous moments. Then just perhaps there will be no more days that will live in infamy.
Father Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest from McPherson.