77 years ago today, the fate of 16 million Americans soldiers was decided within a matter of minutes when the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II.
One day later, a 17-year-old George H. W. Bush, mourning the loss of his friends who died during the attack, attempted to enlist in the U.S. military. Too young, he was turned away, but returned on his 18th birthday to enlist in the Navy, later becoming one of its youngest aviators.
Today, we mourn the loss of the 2,403 Americans who were killed 77 years ago, we honor the lives of the 416,800 American soldiers who died during the WWII, and we thank the veterans who risked their lives to fight during the deadliest conflict in human history.
Among those who fought was President George H. W. Bush, who passed away only eight days ago at age 94. Before his death, he was the last living president that served in WWII.
To commemorate these sacrifices, we look to the late President’s emotional speech, delivered on the 50th memorial of Pearl Harbor in 1991 at the USS Arizona Memorial site at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, when he recalled the day of ‘infamy’:
“In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces, too, of the past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our own history: The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.
The values we hold dear as a nation— equality of opportunity, freedom of religion and speech and assembly, free and vigorous elections— are now revered by many nations. Our greatest victory in World War II took place not on the field of battle, but in nations we once counted as foes. The ideals of democracy and liberty have triumphed in a world once threatened with conquest by tyranny and despotism….
I can still see the faces of the fallen comrades, and I’ll bet you can see the faces of your fallen comrades, too, or family members.
But don’t you think they’re saying, ‘Fifty years have passed; our country is the undisputed leader of the free world, and we are at peace?’
Don’t you think each one is saying, ‘I did not die in vain?’”