Veterans mark significance of Pearl Harbor attacks 71 years later
Army ROTC highlights similarities between historic attack, 9/11
Even though the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 71 years ago today with fighter planes and submarines, its impact is still felt within the University community.
Lt. Col. Samuel Welch, the University Army ROTC Battalion’s Commander, said Pearl Harbor affects him personally because after the attack, his grandfather served as an officer in the Navy, where he installed radar systems on ships and eventually became a lieutenant commander.
“My grandfather was a man of great integrity who believed in service,” he said.
Welch said this attack, which killed 2,300 Americans and wounded an additional 1,100 Americans, led to the United States’ involvement in World War II.
During the attacks, the Japanese military bombarded the U.S. Pacific Fleet by air, sea and submarines in multiple waves, Welch said. Eighteen ships, including five battleships, were either sunk or damaged, and among them was the USS Arizona.
Col. Stephen Abel, director for Veteran Services who also retired from the military, said Japan’s attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, exposed extensive rivalries and a lack of cooperation between the Army and Navy.
Abel said General Dwight D. Eisenhower forced the different military branches to cooperate to be more effective in defending the country.
“That was a great step from where we were at Pearl Harbor,” he said.
In addition, Abel said the lesson learned from Pearl Harbor is that the country should always be ready for an attack because not doing so would lead to catastrophic results.
“It’s nice to say that we are at peace, but that is only good if the rest of the world also wants to remain at peace,” he said.
Abel said Pearl Harbor became more relevant after Sept. 11, since it forced civilian government agencies to cooperate to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future.
“In each case, we learned some serious lessons,” he said.
Welch said the Pearl Harbor attacks are similar to the Sept. 11 attacks, where both events caught the country off-guard.
“It is critical that the U.S. government and military move forward to ensure that America is not again surprised by another attack against its people,” he said.
Frank Greco, who joined the Navy during World War II at age 17, said he and his neighbors from Staten Island joined the military because they felt like it was the right thing to do at the time.
Greco, a nontraditional University student who is 86 years old, said that while in the Navy as a gun crew member on ships carrying supplies for troops during the war, he gained a new appreciation for America.
“We do have problems in this country, and you can criticize it all you want, but compared to the rest of the world, we are still number one by far,” he said.
Robert Eckert, an Army ROTC cadet in his third year, said he would remember Pearl Harbor Day as he continues his military training.
“The best way to remember Pearl Harbor and the men who died there is to keep training hard to defend the country,” said Eckert, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Eckert said there would be a moment of silence to remember those who died in Pearl Harbor during the Army ROTC’s annual dining social.
The Pearl Harbor attacks influenced American thought by overcoming the country’s reluctance that existed prior to the war said Ross Baker, professor in the Department of Political Science.
“The thinking was that since America was protected by two oceans, neither the Japanese nor the Germans had the ability to strike the American mainland,” Baker said.
He said the attack continues to affect American policy-making.
“The type of fear and reluctance to get involved in the affairs of the world that existed in the 1920s and 1930s is no longer common today, although there will always be some elements of this in society,” he said.
Ray Santana, an Army ROTC alumnus and military science instructor at the Army ROTC, said the flag would be flown at half-staff today to remember Pearl Harbor.
“It wasn’t until I went to the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii during my junior college year that the significance of Pearl Harbor really set in for me,” Santana said.
Abel said it is not just about Pearl Harbor, but instead about the broader idea of remembering that America is free because men and women stepped up to the plate and sacrificed their lives.
“There are many calendar days in the year, besides Pearl Harbor, that Americans should stop for a moment and think about the sacrifices they made,” he said.