Guest commentary: Richard Saunders ... Remembering 12/7/1941

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Guest commentary

Dec. 7, 1941: A date that every American should know ... but does not.

When I was a young boy growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., my parents would go to church every Sunday. Afterward, they liked to go to a restaurant — The Park Lane, in Delaware Park, where their wedding reception was held.

One day my parents pointed out the table where they were sitting when the news came — the news that Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

This remembrance, this story that they were sharing with their children, was my parents’ way of burning into us kids’ minds just how serious it was. It was my parents’ way of telling us that the attack on Pearl Harbor was something that we should never forget.

I was 1 year old when the attack occurred, so, no, I could not remember it. But I never forgot it, thanks to my parents sharing that story.

Within a 30-year span we lived through World War II, a presidential assassination, a civil rights leader being gunned down, a presidential hopeful’s murder and the Vietnam War.

This is now: Terrorists attacking our country on Sept. 11, 2001, school shootings at small elementary schools in small communities and large universities, and a space shuttle exploding. With so many so-called “newer” national tragedies, it might seem as though Dec. 7, 1941, is one tragedy that is slowly being forgotten.

Oh, not fully and truly, mind you, in the minds of the masses. I bet that most Americans have heard of Pearl Harbor, and know that it was serious. They know something terrible happened. But to ask a young person today if they know what the precise date of the attack was? So many seemingly do not know.

I have taught hundreds of college students each year for more than 30 years. Some of them grew up, as I did, in homes where the day’s events were talked about, and where such topics as Pearl Harbor were discussed. I see and hear today that so many students do not talk about things like that at home. They do not get together and talk about the good and bad of the day.

And yet, ironically, had it not been for Pearl Harbor, we do not know how World War II would have worked out and, thus, do not know how we would be as a society if the war’s outcome was different.

There are many misconceptions that I see within students today, such as thinking that we went to war with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany that day in 1941, and that we were a world superpower at the time of the attack. And yet we were not.

I do not want to chastise parents, but I do not think they take time to teach things like that anymore.

Dinner, to me, is not just about food, but it is about being and getting together and talking about things. Things that mean, and have meant, something to us.

I always think — and I tell this to my students — that, with parents, when a quality TV documentary is coming on about Pearl Harbor or other historical events, that that is a good time for the family to sit down together. It’s a good time to remember, and to make sure the next generation remembers.

As time goes on, people forget. Or just don’t remember quite as well. I see this happening with students. Even 9/11 is beginning to flutter a little bit. For a while there, students all remembered every living detail of it. But students today were tiny tots back then. Many have heard about it, and certainly know some things about it, but many just remember that their parents were very upset.

It is important to understand who we are and what we became as a nation. Dec. 7, 1941, is one of the key moments in defining who Americans are as a people. It is a moment that most certainly set in motion the process of becoming the superpower we have become.

It is important that we understand, as a nation, that it wasn’t all victories for us. That sometimes, like 9/11, a great sense of pride in our nation comes out of a terrible tragedy. That, too, was, and is, Pearl Harbor.

There will most likely be a point in time when the attack on Pearl Harbor, like so many other older tragedies, will go into the attic of our memories. But I do not believe that it is time to go there just yet.

Not by any means.

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