Monday, December 07, 2009

Today in History: "A Date That Will Live in Infamy"

Commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." -- Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!

The following is a speech that I entered several years ago in the NCFCA's Original Oratory category where it won 1st place at the Regional Tournament. It had been adapted and lengthened from an essay originally written for the Veteran's of Foreign War's 2008 Voice of Democracy Competition which had placed 1st in the state and 7th nationally.

This is posted here in loving memory of my Grandpa Art, a WWII veteran, who passed away May 6, 2008. Also in memory of my great-uncle, Henry Koven, who died on December 7, 1941, during a deadly storm. He was far away from Pearl Harbor, fighting under the British flag as a merchant seamen but perishing on his ship the SS Sauternes (the Christmas Ship), trying to bring supplies to the Faroe Islands. And, finally, in memory of the events of that fatal Sunday morning on an island in Hawaii sixty-eight years ago today.

The Silent Soldier

How should we, as citizens of America, honor the silent veterans of our nation? This is a question that many of us probably do not think about very often, but my experiences with my grandfather have taught me that it is a very important question indeed. In fact, by answering this question, we will also discover why it is necessary for us to honor them at all.

First, then, who are the silent veterans of our nation?

My Grandpa Art never talks about his service during World War Two. Somehow it became an unwritten rule that no one was to ask about what he had done or what he had seen. In July of 2007, he turned eighty-seven years old. Even after all these years, the rule has never been broken – except once.

One afternoon when I was about seven years old, Grandpa Art visited my house, bringing with him a small box. Inside were several war medals. I remember holding them in my hand and seeing that they were beautiful. Then, he held the box and the medals in his own hand, so gently and so carefully. I knew they must also be very special.

Unfortunately, it was so long ago that I have forgotten all he said, but one thing has remained in my memory. As he talked, I remember seeing a look of pride quickly wash over his face and then disappear with sudden sadness.

There was no more talk about the war.

As a little child, I saw those medals merely as something beautiful, something, perhaps, that I might have liked to play with. But now I can look at them and know that they are much more than pretty things. I understand all that they symbolize – courage, duty, and sacrifice. All those things that my grandfather never speaks of but are worthy of honor.

What does it mean to honor? The word is rather difficult to define. One dictionary describes it as a showing of usually merited respect. Oftentimes we give this honor almost subconsciously to a powerful political ruler, a religious leader, or someone extremely talented and brilliant. Usually, no one tells us that they deserve our respect. Somehow we just know.

Yet how do you honor someone who does not wish for you to know of their achievements? Someone who refuses any special recognition?

How do you honor the silent soldier?

My other grandfather, Grandpa John, is also an American veteran, though he did not serve during a war. I believe this may be why he is more willing to tell about his experiences. Indeed, he loves to talk about the time he spent in the army. Yet, always when he speaks, his voice fills with a sense of pride. Pride because, to him, to serve was his duty as an American. I remember a conversation once where we discussed fighting for your country even if you didn’t believe in the war.

“It’s still your country,” he said.

His words have given me insight into my other grandfather’s silence. I realize the depth of the pride and the patriotism they both share for their country.

Though he may never speak about the horrors he witnessed during the Second World War or put into words the love he has for his country, Grandpa Art does not need to.

For many years, a beautiful American flag has been displayed in front of his house. He never needs any special holiday to use as an excuse. For me, this is words enough.

But still I wonder how to honor him when he does not want my honor?

Through my grandfather’s silence, I finally found the answer. It was in that look of sadness I had seen so many years ago.

He served so that his children and his grandchildren would not have to experience the same grief and sorrow he witnessed during the War. We can only honor him by preserving what he and so many others fought to attain. This means sharing both my grandfathers’ undying love of their country and never forgetting their sacrifices and those of so many other American soldiers.

Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day were created specifically as holidays of remembrance, but sadly they often become transformed into mere social gatherings. This past June, as I browsed through several newspapers on the 6th, I found only one that mentioned the events of D-day.

The philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In honor of my grandfather and in honor of so many others like him, it is my duty not to forget. Because of this, it is my role in honoring America’s veterans not to let others forget.

On the anniversary of D-day this year, when so many others were silent, I told as many people as I could and wrote about it on my websites so I could reach even more.

Though the silent soldier does not ask for my honor, he deserves it.

It is true that I know little about my Grandpa Art’s service during WWII, but I do know that he was a medic who served in a Medical Collecting Unit a mile behind front lines in Germany. If his experiences were anything like that of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, then I can understand why he does not speak of them.

McCrae was a Canadian surgeon who served during the First World War. In the Second Battle of Ypres, he was in charge of a field hospital. But though he had practiced as a physician before the war, nothing could have prepared him for the horror of battle, witnessing the agony and suffering of the young wounded soldiers whose lives it was his duty to save.

One life he could not save. His close friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by a shell burst on May 2nd, 1915. McCrae poured his grief into the words of a poem that has come to immortalize the fallen soldier’s and all soldier’s sacrifices for our freedoms.
In Flanders Fields [he wrote] the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Daniel Webster, a prominent early American statesman, noted that, “God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.” The soldiers of our nation are the ones who are always ready to guard and defend our liberty – many times when necessary with their very lives. They dedicate themselves to making sure our freedoms are safe. That is why we must honor them. In a speech in memory of D-day, Ronald Reagan said, “Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for…Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”

I write this in honor of America’s veterans and all soldiers who have fought and those who have died to protect the rights we treasure.

Never forget the battles they fought, share their deep patriotism, and you will honor them as well.

Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 2:17 PM


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