Every Pearl Harbor Day, I remember a conversation I had with a soldier who had been at Pearl on the day of the attack. It reverberates in my head. I can’t get it out.
This man had been at Sunday morning chow and was returning to his barracks when a Jap Zero made a low pass over the parade ground. He was located at one of the Army airfields and knew that there wasn’t supposed to be a Meatball flying over his parade ground.
He was there when the Japs returned and bombed the airfield into oblivion.The Japs would destroy all the American fighters that were lined up wing tip to wing tip to prevent sabotage.
I asked him, “What did you think the second you saw that Jap Zero?”
His answer was insightful. At first, I didn’t believe it. I would ask others if they felt the same way.
This is a picture of my Dad three weeks before Pearl Harbor on maneuvers in Louisiana when the Army was beginning to grow and shake out its fighting capabilities.
The man said to me, “Those Japs had really fucked up.”
I asked him, “What did you think was going to happen?
He had seen the ships on Battleship Row the next day, so he was intimately familiar with the damage. Everything was still on fire. Burial details were going about their work.
They were expecting landings to commence. His reply was surprising.
“I thought we were going to put an ass whipping on those Jap motherfuckers like they could never imagine.” I remember him saying it as clearly today as then.
I probed and asked, “Did you have any reservations that the US Army wasn’t equal to the task?”
“No. I knew the Army wasn’t big enough to do the job yet, but I knew America was.”
On 1 September 1939, the US Army was 174,000 men with 75% scattered across the entire United States and only 25% overseas.
By the end of the war, more than 16,000,000 men and women had served in the US military with approximately 11,200,000 in the Army, 4,200,000 in the Navy, and 660,000 in the Marine Corps.
We beat the Germans and the Japs. Unconditional surrender.
I went to a military school, Virginia Military Institute, where I met men who had fought in World War II. When I served in the Army, I met a handful of officers who had served. I asked them the same question. Got the same answer.
In Korea in the early 1970s, I had a guy in my platoon who had been a glider trooper on D Day in Europe. He was a total fuck up, but could he tell some stories. He had been 16 on D Day and was in his late 40s when he was in my platoon. Good demo man when he was sober.
I used to wonder where that confidence came from — your fleet is on the bottom of the harbor, your battleships are sunk and burning, you’ve been dealt a crushing naval blow, the Japs are conducting landings all over the place, but these men knew that we would rise, we would re-build, we would return the favor.
How did they know that? Where did that come from?
I never found out. To this day, I wonder. Are we still that nation? That nation which kicked the shit out of the Japs and the Germans? The nation which became the arsenal of democracy?
My father used to tell me, “The sons of tigers are tigers. Never forget that.”
I hope that is true.
Here’s to the Greatest Generation, our fathers who when evil was winning hitched up their pants, said, “We got this” and went out and rebuilt the world.
It started on this day, at Pearl Harbor.
God bless America.