By West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
December 7, 1941-- “a date that will live in infamy”. Those were the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his historic speech to the nation after the Imperial Japanese Navy staged a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The USS West Virginia was one of the battleships that sunk in the attack, which claimed more than 2,400 lives. Of the approximately 84,000 service members present on the island of Oahu, approximately 8,000 are alive today with less than 20 members residing in the Mountain State. All of them are well into their 80’s, and they still have stories to tell.
Until September 11, 2001, Pearl Harbor was known as the most devastating foreign attack on U.S. soil. This week, marked the seventieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, an event some historians believe fundamentally changed the United States of America.
Many young West Virginians, like men and women throughout the entire country, reacted by joining the armed forces, some ultimately sacrificing their lives so that we may enjoy the freedoms and opportunities afforded to us today. The patriotic response to defend America led to the rise of “Rosie the Riveter”, women who joined the ranks of manufacturing working in factories, building tanks and airplanes for the war effort. Having women in the workplace was a cultural shift for the United States and a prime example of how our country supported the war effort and each other by banding together and rising to the demands war and industry.
There are great similarities in the functional changes that occurred in our country in both in 1941 and in 2001. After September 11th, the terrorist alert system was established; security at our airports and our national monuments was greatly increased. The implementation of these security measures created a significantly different life experience for us, which in turn, greatly altered our response to daily activity and previous past practices. Ten years later these activities and systems are the norm and our way of life.
As we marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks this year, we must continue to pause and remember the near unthinkable attack at Pearl Harbor. Like the return of the USS West Virginia to active duty before being decommissioned in 1947, we must also firmly claim the spirit and patriotism of the West Virginians who dedicated their lives to our country. On behalf of the people of West Virginia, I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to the men who bore arms at Pearl Harbor and throughout WWII, as well as to the women who stepped up to the task and built up our nation to what it is today.
As time passes the number of individuals with firsthand accounts and memories of that day dwindles, and the responsibility of carrying on that piece of history falls to their children and grandchildren. If you are fortunate enough to have someone in your life who remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor, I encourage you to ask them to share their story. Seventy years later, “a date that will live in infamy”, truly does resonate in our modern lives. May we always remember Pearl Harbor.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.