Pearl Harbor attack remembered at ceremony

It may have been a gloomy, cold and wet night, but the significance of the date and the memories of fallen Americans brought out more than 20 residents on Dec. 7 to a special memorial on Greenwich Avenue.

There the town marked the 71st anniversary of the sneak Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii. In the decades that have followed the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, which brought the United States into World War II, Greenwich has marked what is known as Pearl Harbor Day, and this year there was a short ceremony at the memorial outside the Havemeyer Building on Greenwich Avenue, including a wreath presentation and a 21-gun salute.

The event was put together by the American Legion Post 29 and also featured the participation of the Byram Veterans. Local veterans attended, as did First Selectman Peter Tesei, Selectman David Theis, state Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th District), Chief of Police James Heavey, and several residents. Christopher Hughes, commander of Post 29 and himself a Marine veteran, said it was important for people to mark this date so it would never be forgotten. The morning attack took the lives of 2,335 United States servicemen and 68 civilians. Additionally, 1,143 servicemen and 35 civilians were wounded.

“This day was a defining moment in the history of our great nation, as was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,” Mr. Hughes said. “Prior to Sept. 11 we marked Dec. 7 each and every year in small towns and small ceremonies and in large cities all around our country. We professed a motto of ‘never again.’ The attack on Pearl Harbor marked a change in the way that we saw ourselves here in the U.S. and the way we saw ourselves in the world. No longer were the sizes of the great oceans large enough to provide us a level of protection or a feeling of security or isolation. After Pearl Harbor we changed the way we thought about ourselves and our position in the world.”

Mr. Hughes noted that the attack led the United States to enter into a long and bloody war that “our resoluteness, our courage, industrial might, and sheer fortitude would win for us.” He said World War II showed “how different, in thought and ideology, all other parts of the world were and still are.” The United States had won the peace, Mr. Hughes added, but it changed how the country looked at the world and how it prepared.

In an interview with the Post after the ceremony, Mr. Hughes said that with so many people today not having lived through the attack it was important for the lessons to endure.

“One of the things for those of us who weren’t around for it is understanding,” Mr. Hughes said. “We have a perception that we know what’s going on in the world because we have a very ordered life here in America. If we don’t like something, we’re vocal about it but we’re organized and we’re civil. The rest of the world doesn’t work that way. You can’t predict what the rest of the world is going to do. One of the lessons of Pearl Harbor is the same as from 9/11. You need to be prepared because your ignorance to what’s going on in the rest of the world can hurt you.”

Mr. Tesei also spoke at what he called “an extremely solemn occasion.”

“It’s important that we gather here together 71 years later in a community on the opposite side of our country so we do not forget what took place and remember the lives that were lost,” Mr. Tesei said. “Behind each of those lives there are families today who were connected to those individuals. We need to pay our respects first and foremost to those individuals and commit ourselves to never forgetting and educating each and every generation that comes forward about what took place so we can learn from history.”

As Americans, Mr. Tesei stressed that learning from history was “one of the most important things we could do” to try and understand it and teach it to the next generation.

“By learning from our history we can hopefully avert such a heinous and horrible act of humanity that took place place on Dec. 7,” Mr. Tesei said.

With veterans from this time aging, Mr. Hughes said, it could be difficult to keep remembering events like the Pearl Harbor attack. But with so many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, not only do those serving come back with a renewed sense of respect and thankfulness but it strengthens the commitment of all Americans to remembering past events like Pearl Harbor. Mr. Hughes spoke of this from personal experience, having served in the Marine Corps in the Gulf War.

“Our commitment will never end,” Mr. Hughes pledged. “It will continue every year.”

The Greenwich Covenant of Care is scheduled to hold a special event at 6 p.m. on Dec. 20 at the Public Safety Complex to welcome back all local returning veterans.

 

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