Americans Asked to Recall Sacrifices of World War II

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2010 — One of the top U.S. Navy com­man­ders called for today’s gen­er­a­tion to remem­ber the sac­ri­fices of Amer­i­cans dur­ing World War II, and to match those sac­ri­fices as the coun­try fights now into its 10th con­sec­u­tive year of war.

1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
World War II vet­er­an Stensel Walser talks with Navy Capt. Wayne Porter, with the office of the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dec. 7, 2010, at the Nation­al World War II Memo­r­i­al dur­ing the com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 1941 Japan­ese attack on Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. Walser’s broth­er, Roy, sur­vived the Pearl Har­bor attack.
DoD pho­to by Fred W. Bak­er III
Click to enlarge

Navy Adm. Jonathan Green­ert, vice chief of Naval Oper­a­tions, spoke to a crowd of about 100 vet­er­ans, troops and fam­i­lies, gath­ered here today at the Nation­al World War II Memo­r­i­al to remem­ber the Dec. 7, 1941 Japan­ese attacks on the Unit­ed States. 

On that ear­ly Sun­day morn­ing, the U.S. naval base on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, was attacked in what is wide­ly rec­og­nized as one of the great­est mil­i­tary sur­pris­es in the his­to­ry of war­fare. In less than two hours, the U.S. Pacif­ic Fleet was dev­as­tat­ed, with more than 3,500 Amer­i­cans killed or wounded. 

The next day, then U.S. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy.” 

The attacks “gal­va­nized” Amer­i­ca, Green­ert said, as Con­gress declared war on Japan, thrust­ing the Unit­ed States into World War II, a war that would claim heavy tolls both at home and abroad. 

Stand­ing just across the riv­er from the Pen­ta­gon where ter­ror­ists slammed a com­mer­cial jet into its walls nine years ago, Green­ert said the Unit­ed States is fight­ing a “dif­fer­ent kind of ene­my,” but the sup­port required of Amer­i­cans in this war is the same. 

“Today we have to emu­late those val­ues of the World War II gen­er­a­tion,” Green­ert said. “We look to their courage and their deter­mi­na­tion, and to their com­mit­ment.” As World War II raged, fam­i­lies sac­ri­ficed, rationed and saved for war bonds, he said. 

And, as troops returned home from war, their needs were the same as those return­ing from com­bat today. “When they come home they want what those young heroes of 1941 and through­out World War II want­ed – a job, an edu­ca­tion, a home and a bet­ter life,” Green­ert said. “We have to care for them, reach out to them, seek to under­stand them, and ensure that they do not suf­fer in des­per­a­tion with wounds that are both vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble.” The num­ber of World War II sur­vivors is slow­ly dwin­dling, with only a few present at the cer­e­mo­ny today. This gen­er­a­tion must embrace the respon­si­bil­i­ty to remind a new gen­er­a­tion of what hap­pened at Pearl Har­bor, the admi­ral said. 

“That’s why we came here today. That’s why you came here today,” he said. “Why we will always return and why we must endure to ensure that the gen­er­a­tions that fol­low will always know the phrase ‘Remem­ber Pearl harbor.’ ” 

Jay Groff, an 88-year-old for­mer war­rant offi­cer with the U.S. Army Air Corps will nev­er for­get that day, he said. He called it the “most impor­tant day of the 20th cen­tu­ry.” “The world changed for the Unit­ed States,” Groff said. But, not only for the coun­try, he added. 

“I grew up overnight,” he said. “That morn­ing, I real­ized that there was some­body out there try­ing to kill me. That changed my out­look on life.” Shar­lene Hawkes, a for­mer Miss Amer­i­ca, gath­ered with her extend­ed fam­i­ly for the event. Along­side her sis­ters, she sang the clos­ing hymn at the cer­e­mo­ny. But, Hawkes was not there as a celebri­ty. Her father, Robert Wells, is a World War II vet­er­an. And, in fact, a mem­ber of her extend­ed fam­i­ly has fought in every con­flict since World War II. At the head of the group were the four Walser broth­ers from El Paso, Texas: Roy, Stensel, Ken­neth and Wal­ter. Roy sur­vived the attack at Pearl Har­bor. The oth­ers all served in World War II, and some lat­er in Korea. 

Between the four, the broth­ers amassed 94 years of mil­i­tary ser­vice. Wal­ter died last year, but the oth­er three attend­ed the cer­e­mo­ny today. “I think the most impor­tant thing is we nev­er for­get,” Hawkes said. “We must nev­er for­get the ser­vice of any­one who has ever sac­ri­ficed and who has served. Both of those are fun­da­men­tal to our way of life; to pre­serv­ing our liberties. 

“If we don’t rec­og­nize and hon­or that on a con­sis­tent, reg­u­lar basis and put every­thing that we can behind it, then what we’re say­ing is ‘It’s not that crit­i­cal and not that impor­tant to our way of life.’ And it is,” she said. 

Hawkes’ sis­ter, Elayne Harmer, said it also is impor­tant to remem­ber the sac­ri­fices of those who are still serv­ing, and their fam­i­lies. “We go to the store, we go to games, and we take our kids to school, and we don’t often remem­ber on a day-to-day basis what makes all those free­doms avail­able to us,” she said. “And it’s impor­tant to have cer­e­monies like this as often as pos­si­ble so that we remem­ber the sac­ri­fices that were made. 

“Every sac­ri­fice they make – from the fam­i­lies that are sac­ri­fic­ing, to the men and women who are putting their lives on the line – none of it is wast­ed,” she said. “We remem­ber them. We think of them. We pray for them.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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