IT HAS been 76 years since the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, an event described the following day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an address to Congress as "a date that will live in infamy."
The brazen assault, which lasted a little longer than two hours, was the deadliest by an enemy on U.S. soil until the Sept. 11 attacks. The official death toll was 2,403, according to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau. Of that number, 1,177 were from the USS Arizona, the wreckage of which now serves as a memorial to those who fell.
The Japanese were successful in accomplishing their principal mission, which was to cripple the Pacific fleet. Seventeen ships were sunk or damaged, including eight battleships, and 188 aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged.
The attack catapulted the U.S. into World War II, which had been raging in Europe for more than two years. The conflict finally ended nearly four years later -- after the loss of nearly 417,000 American servicemen -- when the Japanese surrendered aboard the USS Missouri.
However, the passage of time means firsthand accounts of that day are beginning to fade. Of the 60,000 military personnel based on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, fewer than 2,500 survive. The history of the heroism and death at Pearl Harbor is too often relegated to textbooks and old newsreel footage.
Thomas Callender, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who was a 20-year veteran and former director of capabilities for the Navy, wrote that what happened that fateful day should remind Americans that our military must be ever vigilant and always ready to fight and win against any potential adversaries.
In addition, Callendar noted that even today, oil continues to leak from the wreckage of the Arizona, which survivors call "the black tears of the Arizona." He wrote that these "tears" should serve as a reminder to every visitor to the Arizona Memorial of the sailors who perished 76 years ago today and remain entombed in her hull.
Most important, with each passing year leaving us with fewer Pearl Harbor survivors to tell their stories, it is incumbent on every American to ensure the next generation -- our children and grandchildren -- understand why this day in our country's history matters.