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Dec 7, 2011

The Facts of Yesterday

[cross-posted at The Edge of the American West]

H72273kIt's December 7th, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of FDR's speech to Congress, in which the President said:

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

It is a "date which will live in infamy" as Roosevelt said, but not much longer in living memory:

The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack will be the last one marked by the survivors’ association. With a concession to the reality of time — of age, of deteriorating health and death — the association will disband on Dec. 31…Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter, said there weren’t enough survivors left to keep the organization running. “We just ran out of gas, that’s what it amounted to,” he said from his home in Atlanta, after deciding not to come this year. “We felt we ran a good course for 70 years. Fought a good fight. We have no place to recruit people anymore: Dec. 7 only happened on one day in 1941.”

This is not unusual: wars, spectacular events, and catastrophes bring the survivors together to bond, frequently in organizations devoted to the memory of the event. Those survivors have finite lifespans, however, and when they pass, so too do the organizations. The Boxer Rebellion (obligatory self-aggrandizement) witnessed the creation of the Military Order of the Dragon, an association of those veterans--from a range of western countries--who had fought in China in 1900. They had reunions and a newsletter throughout the first half of the 20th century. The order published a book in 1912. But by the 1950s, the membership was dying off, and the newsletter put out the following in 1952:

Activity…has taken a drop the past few years. The average age of Mandarins [the title they gave veterans] is between 75-78 years….Before long, though, the Hereditary 'Chinos'--sons, daughters, and down the line--will have to take over.[1]

They didn't, not having the connection to the events that their spouses and parents did. Thus, too, with the Pearl Harbor veterans, and so December 7th, its memories fading, is handed finally over to history for care and safekeeping.

[1] Military History Institute, Spanish American War Veterans Survey 42/12, McKinney, Lewis.

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