It's been 69 years since December 7, 1941. That's more than half a century since Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. So when is the last time you talked about the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed would "live in infamy"? Maybe this morning, because it came up on the ticker on the TV news, but before that I'm willing to bet the words "Pearl Harbor" haven't passed your lips since December 7, 2009.
Instead, this year, arguments about the "Ground Zero mosque" held the nation's attention. This fall, the events of 9/11/2001 have overshadowed the TSA's move to change security measures at our nation's airports. This month, our Congress has debated a health bill covering the workers at Ground Zero.
And not once have we "remembered" the more than 2,400 Americans who were killed by enemies of our nation. It makes me sad just thinking about it.
I wasn't alive in 1941. My knowledge of Pearl Harbor Day is limited largely to what I learned in grade school, but it has been colored by some family stories. My great-uncle was one of the many proud survivors of that day. He, like most of that storied crew, is gone too. And with them has gone the stories, and the personal touch that elevated Pearl Harbor Day from a bit in the history books to something that touched your very Americanness.
Hearing about Uncle Bob at Pearl Harbor, I could feel about the attack on Hawaii the way I felt when I sat in a newspaper office in Virginia and was told a second plane had flown into the World Trade Center. It was personal. It was real. It was an attack on my country.
It was easier, too, to look at the 2,400 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor as we did the thousands of casualties on 9/11. As people. As mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, husbands, wives. On 9/11, we thought of the children who lost parents, of the parents who lost children. And I looked at Uncle Bob, whose children are my father's generation, his cousins.
Uncle Bob was just a kid himself back in 1941 -- 19 or 20 -- and so were the people who died around him. He was my grandma's big brother, but he and his wife had yet to take her out to the dance where she would meet my grandfather. If he had died there, that may have never happened.
I can't ignore Pearl Harbor Day even if I wanted to. It was 69 years ago, but if those bombers had taken a slightly different path, I may not be here. And yet, I don't talk about Pearl Harbor Day much either. Listening to FDR's speech online makes me shudder, but I don't pull it up much.
If someone with personal ties to the day can forget a day that lives "in infamy," I wonder how long it will be before 9/11, the day we vowed to "never forget," will be forgotten too. In nine years, the nation's still healing. Pain has kept it fresh. The building of the memorial has kept the day locked in our minds. The images on TV that day are burned in my mind. I'm an American. I promised to "never forget."
But already September 11 is a day that means nothing to my 5-year-old daughter, who was born four years later, who didn't line up with me on the blood donation lines, who didn't go with me to the first year anniversary ceremonies in my hometown. I'd take her to a ceremony now, but just nine years on I wouldn't know how to find one near us. The ceremony in the town park was disbanded; I'm not even sure when. It's been nine years, and I didn't even notice when they stopped.
And so I wonder, after the memorial in Manhattan is complete, how long will it take before the people dropping in are like the honeymooners who take a few minutes out of their Hawaiian vacation to gawk at the U.S.S. Arizona sunken beneath the waves 69 years ago? How soon will we really forget?
Image via BlatantNews.com/Flickr