The cold temperatures on Saturday night could not keep a dedicated group from taking time out of their holiday season to remember the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor.
The surprise attack by Japanese forces officially brought the United States into World War II, and at a brief ceremony by the town’s memorial outside the Havemeyer Building on Greenwich Avenue, American Legion Post 29 Commander Chris Hughes went over the terrible cost.
At least 2,400 United States servicemen and women lost their lives in the attack in addition to more than 120 civilians when the morning attack was made unprovoked on the base in Hawaii. Mr. Hughes said it was important to keep remembering this and “spread the word about what’s going on in our country today.”
Mr. Hughes, a Marine veteran, lay a wreath at the memorial with the help of his father, David, himself a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, who said he had been attending events like this since before his son was born. Mr. Hughes spoke to the crowd, which was mostly made up of members of Post 29 and Byram veterans, about the importance of remembering this date.
“From the phone calls and emails I’ve been getting over the past week about this event, I think it’s become pretty clear that people have some pretty strong opinions about Pearl Harbor and remembering it and how it relates to recent events in our country, going back to the attack on our embassy in Benghazi, going back to the attacks of 9/11 and going back to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole,” Mr. Hughes said. “At the time, our country was saying ‘Never again’ and ‘Never forget,’ and we learned some great lessons coming out of World War II and some great lessons coming out of Vietnam, and it’s up to us in the American Legion and the Byram veterans and citizens to make sure that we keep alive the memory of incidents like this and make sure that we try and keep them from being repeated.”
After the wreath was placed, a 21-gun salute was fired by American Legion members.
This was the 72nd year since Pearl Harbor, and in an interview with the Post, Mr. Hughes was asked if he felt people were having trouble relating to it since so many people today were born having seen the event only as a moment in history. Attendance for this event was small when compared to the annual remembrance ceremony Mr. Hughes hosts for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“There’s a difference,” Mr. Hughes said. “We’re trying to keep the memory alive here. We don’t actually try to make this as big an event. We run it as though it’s a Post 29 meeting. On 9/11 it’s different, because we’re trying to educate more. Generally, I think the American public is smart enough that when you talk to them and highlight this to them and ask them to think about something, they understand.”
Mr. Hughes said he believed the lesson that came out of wars like Vietnam was the importance of not having military decisions hindered in any way, shape or form by civilians. He said this led to successful operations in the 1980s in places like Grenada and in the 1990s in the Gulf War but that getting away from those policies led to disaster in the Iraq War and also to current changes to the rules of engagement. Mr. Hughes said this change has led to 75% of the casualties in Afghanistan over the last four and a half years.
“This happened because politicians got into war fighting,” Mr. Hughes said, noting that this kind of policy is what led to incidents like the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 Americans among more than 50 others when Marine guards were not able to stop the suicide bombers because they weren’t armed with live ammunition.
Mr. Hughes noted that the memorial where the ceremony was held had the names of residents who were killed in wars leading up to the Vietnam War and that names would likely be added to memorials in the future.
“It would be great if, as a country, we could stop having memorials,” Mr. Hughes said. “I think we all agree with that, and I think the best way to work on something like that is to keep getting the word out and remembering incidents this nation has been involved in and, as a people, we support a government that is peaceful, that understands where our place in the world is and, most importantly, makes sure we always recognize those who have raised their hands to serve and wear the uniform of the United States and those who have given their lives so that those of us back here can live the American dream.”