The danger of forgetting our ‘Date of Infamy’


imageI was nine years old the last time our nation fired a shot while openly declaring war with another nation. And while we have certainly spent the majority of the last few decades fighting abroad and sacrificing the lives of our young men and women in places like Kuwait, Qatar, Baghdad and Syria, the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 are the closest that many of my generation have come to experiencing war first-hand.

As a child, I was only peripherally aware of the Vietnam War and even less so of the Korean War, which ended before I was born. Yet, as the last shot was being fired in Vietnam, I already knew what Pearl Harbor was.

I knew how, on Dec. 7, 1941, a quiet Sunday morning was transformed into a fiery nightmare by Japanese planes that claimed the lives of more than 2,400 servicemen.

I knew about the USS Arizona, and how in less than nine minutes more than 1,000 men became entombed in the wreckage that now rests like a shadow below the harbor’s surface.

I also knew it was a morning filled with as many acts of heroism and sacrifice as there were moments of the horrific. Over the years, images in text books, commemorative issues from publications like Time magazine and stories captured in movies impressed upon me the virtues of valor. 

At the same time, and perhaps more importantly, those images and the stories that surface each year — much like the slowly recurring “black tears” of oil that still bubble to the surface from the USS Arizona — serve as a reminder of the ultimate price demanded by a world at war.


In an age when many of our youth entertain themselves with gaming systems that center around killing enemies with everything from grenades and knives to sniper fire and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), lessons learned from the sacrifices of the past are in danger of becoming diluted by pre-packaged valor and conditioned gaming responses.

Admittedly, my friends and I spent countless summer days of our youth as soldiers rescuing our platoon and driving the Nazis out of our backyards. The difference between then and now is that, as kids, we were drawing from those text books, commemorative magazine articles and movies that dug such deep grooves in our memories.

Without knowing it, we were reinforcing our own understanding of war based on what we knew of history — and in particular the sacrifices made by soldiers at places like Pearl Harbor and the beaches of Normandy.

Today, the knowledge of those sacrifices — and the lessons learned from them — aren’t digging nearly as deep a groove in the minds of our children as they once did.

As they say, history forgotten is a history bound to repeat itself.

Unless we take the time to ensure that each generation understands what our “Day of Infamy” truly means, the black tears slowly surfacing from the USS Arizona will be for more than the servicemen who came to rest within it.

Write Siuslaw News editor Ned Hickson at nhickson@thesiuslaw or P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439.

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

22 thoughts on “The danger of forgetting our ‘Date of Infamy’”

  1. I was fourteen years old then and remember well the “day of infamy” and Roosevelt’s speech. For the next four years, it was a time of unity in our nation. Everyone pitched in doing something besides observing the rules of our rationing books and “black out” restrictions. Women took over the jobs in the factories, others knit, collected scrap metal, paper, aluminum, etc. Some people, like my father, regularly donated blood to the Red Cross.Some teenagers, like myself, joined a hospital’s reserve group, serving in hospitals in the summer doing whatever needed doing. My male friends were in active service either in Europe or the South Pacific. It was both a fearful and a hopeful time. We cannot let WWll be forgotten. Some of it still haunts me. I have done a good deal of traveling, but cannot include either Germany or Japan in my itinerary. One does not, especially, forget Pearl Harbor and the treachery of Japan.


    Dear Ned,

    Good tribute to WW II – thanks.

    I have been wearing my Uncle Gordon Moore’s USMC emblem I received from him when I was about 8 years old since Veterans Day this year.

    All of my uncles served in WW II. My dad in USN (Pacific – Aviation) , Uncle Norris in US ARMY (D-Day/Europe), Uncle ‘Bud” US Army Air Corps (Flying the ‘Hump’ India-China), Uncle John (US Merchant Marines – Atlantic). They had a cousin who died flying over the Atlantic (MIA) looking for U-boats.

    Uncle Gordon was in the USMC (Pacific). He was playing football for Willamette U. vs. U of Hawaii on December 6, 1941. (A day that will live in infamy – the Willamette Bearcats were defeated (The first game was played Dec. 6 before a crowd of 24,000. Although the Bearcats had suffered a 20-6 defeat, many of the Oregonians were looking forward to several days of postgame festivities.)

    Anyway, 75 years later, I recall how my Uncle Gordon and Aunt Elaine were drafted into service on Sunday, December 7th. The football players were given WWI helmets, a few Springfield rifles (no bullets) and told to guard the beaches of Waikiki from immenent Japanese invasion. Several weeks later, I recall, they were able to sail home with escorts to evade Japanese submarines.

    Can you imagine the fears of parents (my grandparents) learning of an attack on Hawaii whilst your children were away there to play football? No texting home, “I am okay.”

    So, the world has changed. I was alarmed today when Bill O’Reilly and FoxNews started their tribute by saying the the attack on Pear Harbor was a ‘surpise’ and that it started WWII.

    No. My friend Ken Jernstedt (USMC/Aviation) had already shot down 12 1/2 Japanese airplanes in China flying for the ‘Flying Tigers’. He was paid $500 per airplane shot down. The Japenese knew that the USA was preparing for war in the Pacific – however – we were not yet ready to start it up. So, they jumped in ahead of our plans to hopefully derail our ability to immediately take the war to their homeland and vital interests.

    Had the three US Navy aircraft carriers been in Pearl Harbor – the main strategic targets of the attack – we would have had a much more difficult time in launching a counter attack in 1942-43.

    The point it – history – truth – they matter. I fear US population is ignorant of the fact that the ‘next’ world war is already afoot.

    Eastern Europe is loaded for war with NATO weapons and troops on the borders of Russia in the Ukraine, Romania, the Baltic States and certainly Poland and to some degree Georgia (special forces), too.

    The conflict in Syria has the potential to spill over into Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Again, placing the US and Russia on opposite sides of the field.

    And, this field has nuclear weapons. Lots of them! (Most — over 13,000 – of the 14,000+ nuclear warheads are in the US and Russian arsenals – nearly 2,000 ready to use today!)

    So, when The Siuslaw News does the great job it does in getting people prepared for Emergencies – I worry less about the inevitable Cascadia Event (9.0+ earthquake) that shuts down roads, bridges and power for months. I am more concerned about the possible nuclear war that shuts down 1/3 of the world’s lifeforms – and destroys the US as we know it – period. Millions will survive – but how civil our local community will be and how resilient to sustain itself is a critical work to do now. The next war may begin with a cyber shut down – no power – no news – and escalate into a full blown nuclear showdown. We may NEVER know except that PDX, SFX, LAX, SEA and everthing within 20 miles of ground zero would be gone. The radioactive clouds may give us a clear clue as to how extensive the damage was – but rumors would likely take over and spread WITHOUT an Internet.

    If interested, Google what James, the brother of Jesus Christ wrote, regarding the causes of war. I tend to agree … that being said … the gun is loaded for WW III!


    Merry Christmas – peace on earth – I hope we can keep what little we have and prepare the next generation for something more hopeful than a global disaster or our own making!

    Meanwhile, isn’t it good to have community celebrations like Ho Ho Hollywood to draw us together, to smile and to see a mayor get hit by pillows, or Elfish meet Elvis and sing Blue Christmas before our very eyes!



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    1. No worries, I’ve been listening to public radio all day, and I’ve heard about three stories about the 75th anniversary. Apparently, you’re not the only one who didn’t realize it 😉

  3. Such a powerful post Ned. Everything you said is so true. I don’t imagine this generation is remotely aware of history and that’s scary because exactly what you said . . .’As they say, history forgotten is a history bound to repeat itself.’ 😦

  4. I was just a little older than you during Vietnam but it was a significant impact on my family. My stepdad was over there for 6 months and he came back with what we now know as PTSD. It was a bad time for all of us and eventually ended their marriage. Pearl Harbor is one of those significant reminders for every one to stop and think about the sacrifices that have been made to make us free. Thanks for this awesome post Ned! 🙂

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