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OpinionColumnistsMike Vogel

75 years later, why Pearl Harbor matters

The U.S. Pacific Fleet burns at Pearl Harbor

The U.S. Pacific Fleet burns at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images

Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. I’ll bet half the people reading this column have little idea of what that means. It marks the 75th anniversary of the devastating attack on our naval fleet in Hawaii that catapulted us into World War II.

Dec. 7, 1941, is, to those alive at that time, what Sept. 11, 2001, is to many of the rest of us. On that date, Japanese planes swarmed across the harbor and bombarded the U.S. fleeVogel: 75 years later, why Pearl Harbor matterst, sinking or seriously damaging eight battleships and killing 2,388 Americans. A day later, we declared war against Japan, and four days later against Germany.

Those who fought and died in World War II would be startled to know those two nations are now among our closest allies. Imagine Iran and North Korea being our nation’s besties 75 years from today.

In the 1990s, I spent a week in Honolulu and felt a pull to visit Pearl Harbor. I boarded the ferry that glided me across to the USS Arizona Memorial site and noticed that one of the guides was an older gentleman who was a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack — an eyewitness to history. He cautioned us that the memorial was “not just another tourist attraction” and to be respectful, delivering firsthand testimony to what happened the morning of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy.”

Tourists took photos of the memorial, which sits atop the sunken battleship Arizona, the grave site of more than 900 service members. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the tourists were Japanese.

After watching the smiling group snap their pictures, I asked the veteran whether this bothered him.

He paused a moment, his eyes staring into the distance. “No, it wasn’t them,” he replied. “Maybe their fathers, their grandfathers, but not them. You have to move forward, move on, and not blame the innocent.”

Forgiveness and compassion. We could use a large helping of that in 2016.

As for the brave U.S. servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedoms of speech, the press, petition, assembly and religious expression on that mournful day, let’s make certain that they are never forgotten.

Playwright Mike Vogel is the author of the new comedy “Senior Moment.”

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