Remembering the ‘Day of Infamy,’ faded old soldiers

Dec. 7, 1941, is a long-ago and distant date that now lives couched between the brittle and musty pages of old yellowed newspapers and magazines that are found hidden under mounds of old junk in our attics and basements. For many of the bright young fresh-faced, tech-savvy, backpack carrying kids of these times, it is a blurry date that has become little more than a misty footnote in their history books.

However, 77 years after it happened, the attack of on Pearl Harbor still represents a stunning moment of treachery and betrayal in American history. With the clarity that hindsight affords us, Dec. 7, 1941, was indeed a moment in time that galvanized America and awakened a sleeping giant. A moment that changed our country from a society of wide-eyed innocents who were content to be blissfully ignorant of the wide world beyond its shores, into a nation on whose shoulders rested the task of saving the world. That long ago Dec. 7 saw so much more than just another bright and sunny Sunday morning dawning over the giant American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was indeed a cataclysmic event that is now forever etched in eternity. So far away that today, the grainy old black and white images of it look more like a Hollywood movie than reality to us.

At this time of the year, the warm and cozy spirit of the holiday season burns brightly within the collective hearts and minds of Americans. It is a time that finds people once again coming together standing poised on the crest of fresh hopes and renewed dreams as the old year draws-down and slips away. It is also a time for reflection. A time when we pause to look back, not only on our own lives, but also to look back on events that have, across the decades, left an indelible mark on our world. Perhaps, these pewter-gray days of the early winter offer us a backdrop against which we might give closer thought to the defining moments that have shaped our world, and that have imprinted their patterns and traces on us as a society.

For those people that have come to be known as America’s “Greatest Generation” who still have the capacity to remember it, the fading traces of World War II may still drift silently through their memories like ghostly apparitions. It may be like a nightmare that they still can’t wake up from. For more than any single event, the Second World War was the defining moment of the 20th century and beyond. It saw the ultimate triumph of good over evil, and of freedom over tyranny.

The attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted America into the bloodiest and most costly war in the history of the world forcing a generation of carefree and happy young boys to become battle-hardened men overnight while stealing away their innocence forever. Pearl Harbor became a rallying point to a nation that never wanted war, but whose sons and daughters never retreat from it. They fought willingly to protect and preserve the freedom that we enjoy today. It was a watershed moment in time that President Franklin D. Roosevelt so aptly characterized as a “day that will live in infamy.”

Sadly, the men and women who rose to meet the challenge of saving the world for us are, like these December days of the waning year, and also of that distant war that they fought so long ago, fading away. In fact, nearly all of them are now gone. For all intents and purposes, the only traces of the unsung exploits of these old soldiers….these faded heroes…. that is left behind, now lives only in the brittle and musty pages of those old yellowed newspapers that are disintegrating in the attic.

There are, in our hectic daily lives, that times when we all might catch a fleeting glimpse of an old soldier from that time. More often than not, it is on a sunny spring day that our eyes happen to fall on a frail old man confined to a wheelchair. A withered old soul wearing that gauzy look of old age and who might have that thousand mile stare in his filmy aged eyes, and whose dried-out skin is a field of parched and crusty aged spots. Perhaps, when we do come across one of them, we might try to see them, not as the infirmed old men who they are today, but rather as the sturdy young kids who they were a lifetime ago as they undertook the unwanted task of saving the world for us. Today, those old men who are still with us bear not the slightest resemblance to the boys that they were so long ago. They are our Great Grandfathers, or sadly, they are a weathered name etched on a granite headstone in a cemetery who nobody has a clear memory of as the years rush by in a blur.

So, on this Pearl Harbor Day, we might pause to remember the old soldiers who have now faded away. We should never forget them and what they did for the generations who followed in their footsteps. We should be thankful to them for all of the sacrifices that they made, and for saving the world for us all those years ago. They have left behind a legacy of sacrifices that we can never fully repay.

Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough, Massachusetts.