Some men are so legendary that they seem to defy the word itself, seeming almost superhuman, even mythological. The sailors of World War II have become such in our military history. Seen as rough, but ready men, tattooed, using salty language with reputations as hard-drinking brawlers, is the usual stereotype. As a young sailor, I wanted to emulate those men from the 1940s, wearing my sailor hat at a jaunty angle on my head, or going off to get a tattoo or drink in some dive somewhere. However, Navy policies and standards made sure that I wore my cover properly, and I discovered that liberty wasn’t always about going out to get drunk or rowdy. I quickly realized that these weren’t the things I should have been emulating anyways. The sailors of World War II had survived the deadly clashes of ships and aircraft at Guadalcanal and Coral Sea; they ran to their GQ stations while kamikaze planes dived in for the kill. Others were fighter or torpedo bomber pilots, putting their Dauntless aircraft into steep dives to rain down revenge on the Japanese at Midway; still other sailors served as Seabees, constructing much-needed runways for airfields on small, jungle-choked islands, or as Corpsmen saving the lives of Marines on places like Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. They cursed, loved, fought, bled, and died, more often than not, for one another. These men lived hard lives, and what I soon learned was that it was better to try and live up to the honor, courage, and integrity that they possessed. So many of these sailors were very good men, god-fearing and just, whom in reality were no more than boys, many having lied about their ages to join up after the December 7, 1941, sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, 71 years ago today.
Many of these boys are now old men, most in their late 80s and early 90s. They are leaving us daily, passing through that final stage of mortality and on into legend. I hope that this country never forgets men like these, or that we NEED men like these. Sadly, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association was disbanded last year. It is inevitable, because the cruel trick of time is that it will run out for us all someday. Not all of the survivors are gone, however; not yet. But when they are, we will all be the worse off for it.
Please click the link below to view the nicely-written obituary of one of our recently departed Pearl Harbor survivors: