Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Seventy years ago today, Japan launched an attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into WWII. This is a significant moment in history, as that act changed the course of the war, and thus, the course of history.
It's also a significant moment for me and my family. My grandfather was there, aboard the USS Helena. Both he and his twin brother (I feel bad, I can't remember what ship he was on) survived the attack and went on to spend some time in the Pacific before heading home for good. My grandpa married my grandma (who was engaged to another man at the time, but she just couldn't resist my grandpa's devilish charm) and had seven kids. That seventh kid went on to be my dad. If things had gone differently, I wouldn't be here. Hell, most of us wouldn't be here - I'm sure many of you have relatives that were involved in the war.
My grandpa died when I was thirteen, proving that cancer can take down even the scrappiest of fighters. I wish I could have gotten to know him more as an adult. That he could have seen me graduate from high school, and then college. Maybe get married someday. See my sister and I actually get along. Maybe he's still watching, but it's not the same, really.
My grandma still goes to the survivor reunions every year. There are only two survivors left in Iowa, and they've decided to officially disband their chapter after this year. In a way, it's bittersweet - it's definitely the end of an era. I'm glad people still remember, though. There were far fewer posts on Twitter and Facebook today than there was for 9/11 (which is to be expected) or for Veterans' Day (again, to be expected) - but some remember. Some, who remind others. I posted a picture of my grandpa today and so far it has received over 40 "likes" - each one makes me tear up a little bit with pride. I remember, and I remind them. Together, we pay our homages.
The 1940s/WWII era has always fascinated me, but all I know if it comes from history books and movies. The way they dressed (curls and red lipstick and cotton dresses, swoon), they way everything was so much more urgent, so much more passionate, so much more real, because the world could end any day, for all they knew. They lived and loved, like we do. Like we do, but differently. Everything was different back then. Was it better? I don't know. It's certainly been idealized quite a bit.
And yet- it's hard to imagine the people of that generation, all getting up there in age now, playing bingo and cradling their great-grandbabies and driving ten miles an hour under the speed limit - they were our age, if not younger, when Pearl Harbor happened, when the war happened. Pearl Harbor was their 9/11, but it changed them in different ways. They've been called The Greatest Generation. Maybe it's part of their myth, their legend. Maybe time has glossed over the truth behind the stores, but it fascinates me all the same. They were called up to serve for the greater good, and they did so without the whining and entitlement that is far too common today. This? This unholy mess of the 1% vs the 99%, of gays being discriminated against, of police officers pepper-spraying the very citizens they are supposed to protect, of the economy in shambles, of politicians bickering and rhetoricizing and placing corporate interests and greed above the good of the common people, refusing to work together, refusing to compromise - this is what they fought for. What have we done to the world that they saved for us?
But that's not my point. My point is, they did save the world. Our soldiers? They are our superheroes. Forget your Batmans, your Supermans, your Iron Men, your Captain Americas - whether in the 1940s or the 2000s or the 2011s, our soldiers are the ones putting their lives on the line. My grandpa did it seventy years ago, and right now, someone else's future grandpa is doing it now. I hope in seventy years, they'll remember to say thank you, too.