It happened 77 years ago today. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service struck the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor with a sneak military strike.
It was five year’s before 72-year-old Tom Chester entered the world, but as the Navy veteran recalled Thursday it was such a defining moment in U.S. history that generations to come will remember the moment 2,403 American lives were lost and American entered World War II.
“I think it’s something that was so powerful because it was something that we were not prepared for,” Chester said while sitting at a table near the bar at the Brunswick Veterans of Foreign Affairs decked out in VFW gear.
“It happened on a Sunday, it happened while sailors were sleeping, because there really wasn’t anything to be on guard for. Basically, they were caught being unprepared. As a result of that, there were a lot of lives lost. … A lesson we’ve learned over the years is that we need to always be ready.”
With the country now being so many years removed from that fateful day and having already lost so many veterans from that conflict — according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2018 — it begs the questions of whether the country is still learning from that day.
Chester said the event taught people the vulnerability of the nation and that “we need to be on guard for anything that might happen in the nation’s future.”
“Just an awareness of our vulnerability,” Chester said.
“People became very united when this country was under attack.”
Police Lt. Robert Safran, an Army veteran, was just a kid when he began hearing stories of that day from World War II veterans.
“(I would say) 97 percent of the country came together and said ‘we need to go to war and be united on this,’ ” said Safran as he leaned back in the chair at his desk.
“They call it the greatest generation for a reason, because they probably saved humanity.”
It is important to continue to remember Pearl Harbor and honor World War II veterans, said Safran, because the stories they tell serve as a sort of unwritten history and will live on long after that generation is gone.
“It’s extremely important to never, ever, ever forget what happened that day,” said Scotty Kopfstein, an 82-year-old Navy veteran and senior vice commander at the Medina VFW.
He said that memorial services are held all over the country and many veterans attend in order to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive and to remember lost lives.
“I don’t think we are going to lose anything because I think that we are reminded on a regular basis as to what took place and, even though that generation is dying off, they’ve shared some of their experiences with that,” said Chester.
“I don’t think it will ever go away, just like 9/11 will never go away.”