We all know the quote, “December the 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy….”

When U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before Congress and uttered those words, there was no doubt in his voice nor uncertainty in his words. At the very moment he made his appeal to Congress to declare war on the nation of Japan, the survivors of the attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor were still in shock at the devastation, at the loss of so many men and women, and at the realization that the invincibility and might of the United States had been tested and we had failed. But out of the attack came another emotion.

That emotion drove countless numbers of men and women to rush down to their local recruiting stations to sign on the dotted line, raise their hands, and take an oath to fight for and defend this nation from our newly sworn enemies. The attack on Pearl Harbor rallied this nation behind a common cause, and we put aside our differences (mostly) to focus our rage and our might against those who would threaten our way of life. So why have we lost sight of that determination in the face our own internal (and often petty) fights?

Have We Lost Our National Bearings Since Pearl Harbor?

I am not naive. I know that we all have our opinions, our differences. This isn’t a Kumbaya piece, a plea for “why can’t we all just get along?” Nope, I know that people will never be 100 percent in agreement, and that’s cool, I respect that. This is more of me realizing the significance of December 7th and the effect that it has had on our country, even now. We have come a long way as a nation, technologically, scientifically, and socially. But events in the last 15 – 20 years have shown that we have a ways to go.

Of course, we still have those same men and women who are willing to give up their families, jobs, and at times, their limbs, their sanity, and their very lives to go off and fight this nation’s battles. Yes, some were drafted, but the majority of those who were fulfilled their duty and served. All of them, volunteer or draftee, did their duty, and in the case of so many, did so out of love for their nation, despite their feelings, their political views, their religious views, or their social views. And once the rounds started flying, they did it for the classic reason: “the man on my left and my right.”

On December 7, 1941, at 7:52 a.m., the sailors, Marines, and Army Air Corps airmen were peacetime servicemen and women. They slept in, they played cards, they lounged on the beach, and some had the dreaded duty. They were from all over: Bayonne, New Jersey; Omaha, Nebraska; San Diego, California; and even Anchorage, Alaska. They were from all walks of life, from pipefitters to cooks, trust-fund babies to dirt-poor Depression-era farmers. They were also of all races. For all of them, it was the last day of a relaxing weekend, and like any good service member, they were taking full advantage of the time off. The exploding bombs from the first wave of Nakajima K5N Kate aircraft and the strafing from the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters shattered that peace and changed their worlds forever.

Yet, as shocked and bloodied as they were, they rallied. They jumped into the oil-slicked waters and braved fires to rescue their friends and shipmates. They rushed to aid stations and hospitals to donate blood and help treat the wounded. They stayed at their stations despite the shrapnel and gunfire. And they fought back. Anti-aircraft guns barked, and a few fighter aircraft that were not destroyed made it into the air, though it came too late.