This upcoming December 7th is a day to remember. People remember not only those whose lives were lost on that terrible day that Japan attacked United States territory in 1941. They also recognize December 7th as the day the world changed. After that moment in time, the U.S. would no longer refrain from getting involved in world conflict. Thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives that day, which created a new front of a war that ultimately claimed millions of lives. In the present, Americans celebrate National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day as a means to recognize those who were killed, as well as those who fought in the war that followed.
“A Date Which Will Live In Infamy”
These days, not too many people remember that the United States generally preferred to stay out of world wars, particularly those that started in Europe. Decades of bitter competition between the growing U.S. and established European powers over access to the rich resources of Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia made for a delicate relationship between even non-warring nations. The U.S. waited as long as possible to get involved in World War II for this reason.
But, on Dec. 7, 1941, everything changed. Hawaii was not yet a U.S. state, but it was considered U.S. territory. Early in the morning on Dec. 7, Japanese fighter planes and battleships attacked Pearl Harbor with bombs, bullets and torpedoes. Japan’s aim was to completely destroy the U.S. pacific fleet, which would make Japan’s attempt to take over the Southeast Asia easier. By the end of the attack, every battleship was crippled, two of which remain at the bottom of the sea today.
Despite the devastation, Japan had not crippled U.S. naval protection. U.S. military technology had shifted from battleships to aircraft carriers as the most effective ships for war. As it happened, all U.S. aircraft carriers were away from Pearl Harbor that day. On December 8th, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to Americans via radio waves. He claimed that December 7th would become “a date which will live in infamy,” as the U.S. would take action to protect itself and ensure that such an attack never happened again. Within a week, the U.S. was also at war with Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy.
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Unlike Veterans Day or Memorial Day, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is not considered an official national holiday. This means that government agencies are still open for business, and businesses and schools run as normal. However, it is tradition for the president to direct Americans to fly their flags at half-staff in memory of those who lost their lives that fateful day. National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was not officially created until Aug. 23, 1994. And, the day is more commonly known as “Pearl Harbor Day.”
Remembering Those Lost
Several regions throughout the country choose to provide their own memorial remembrances and celebrations on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. The most notable come from the islands of Hawaii, where the attack occurred. Pacific Historic Parks (PHP) is comprised of several parks dedicated to honoring and preserving the historic artifacts and monuments created for those who fought and died in the Pearl Harbor attack. For example, PHP maintains the monument for the USS Arizona, one of the two battleships that sank on Dec. 7, 1941. The association also seeks to honor little-known figures in the attack, such as the band on the USS Arizona.
This day is important to remember those who are still alive, who remember the war and its incredible cost to the U.S. and the world as a whole. In their 80’s and 90’s, living World War II veterans are now at the age where many of their fellow veterans have passed away. Celebrations on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day often take the opportunity to talk to or interview World War II veterans, particularly those who were in Pearl Harbor the day of the attack. Many organizations, including the Library of Congress, take advantage of these national days of remembrance to encourage Americans to take down the stories of veterans they know. These voices are an important reminder of the cost of freedom, and what it takes to protect it.
An Honorable Burial
Many veterans prefer to be buried in a military cemetery, either local to their homes or in locations related to their military service. The federal government department of Veterans Affairs offers free burial plots in these cemeteries for veterans, and provides funds for veterans who seek traditional burial or cremation services when they die.
Veterans who choose cremation have additional options. Those who fought in the war in the Pacific, as well as those who served a long career in the Navy or Marines, may seek a burial at sea. In the past several years, several veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor attack have decided that they want to be buried with their fellow sailors. NBC News reported that those who fought on the USS Utah and USS Arizona, which both sank during the attack, may opt to have a navy diver bury their cremated remains in the shipwrecks.
Since nearly one in two Americans choose to be cremated, veterans who desire this type of service and their families should consider the many options available to them for military-themed cremation urns for ashes. Urns range from the traditional to the whimsical, designed to accommodate a wide variety of personalities and styles. Some urns are sturdy and intended for burial in a cemetery. Others work well as beautiful keepsakes, and some are designed for burial at sea, in biodegradable urns or other permanent choices.
While those who remember the events surrounding National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day become fewer each year, their sacrifice remains. That day in 1941 will always remind Americans that their freedom is worthy of a fight. Those who died in that attack and in World War II deserve honor and remembrance. And, those who survived can share their stories before they, too, are gone.