“Remember Pearl Harbor” is a refrain that has echoed in the American experience since the day of infamy when Japan attacked U.S. military installations and ships moored at Pearl Harbor, nearly destroying our Pacific fleet.

Some of us are old enough to remember Dec. 7, 1941. We were at war with Japan and Germany, the Axis Powers who believed they could rule the world. America rolled up its sleeves and went to war.

One by one, we won back the Pacific islands that had been captured by the Japanese and, in Europe, Allied Forces were soon pushing Germany back to their own soil. The Allied forces had won the war on both fronts in less than four years. But the cost in human lives was staggering. Thousands didn’t come home.

World War II transformed America. We rationed food and gasoline, sold war bonds and stamps and put women and young men to work in shipyards and defense plants to supply the armor that was needed to win the war. The second “war to end all wars” ignited the spirit of Americanism. We were proud to be Americans. We became the leader of the free world. We soon learned what that leadership would entail.

We became willing partners in SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in which we subscribed to the mutual pledge than an attack against one member nation would be an attack against all and would be responded to by all member nations. By 1950, that treaty agreement would be tested in Korea with great cost of American lives and a stalemate in hostilities. Today, name a corner of the world where the U.S. hasn’t assumed the role “world leader” to quell uprisings and all-out war. We spend our treasure and the lives of our “volunteer” military to keep the world from exploding into another global conflict. The price is high. The results seemingly transparent, or non-existent.

And the average American, how is he affected? Does he ration food and gasoline and sell war bonds and collect scrap metal, or volunteer in budget-crunched public institutions? No, he whines about taxes, grouses about the high cost of food and gasoline and demands higher income and better benefits for a shorter work week from an employer who faces an increasingly more difficult world market. Our advantage in the marketplace has vanished. The Industrial Revolution has reached the rest of the world, supported by a much less demanding labor force.

As you observe Pearl Harbor Day, try to remember the thousands of our friends and neighbors who have made the supreme sacrifice to keep America the land of the free, the land of those who eat good food, drive good cars, communicate by cell phone or laptop or iPad and live in a comfortable home where our kids can attend good schools. Those who made the supreme sacrifice will not read these words.

Fly the flag on Pearl Harbor Day and be thankful that you live in the greatest country in the world. I sincerely hope that was part of your Thanksgiving Day prayer.

And you veterans returning from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries where you have served, help keep the spirit of patriotism alive by joining and supporting American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts. They had a lot to do with the better benefits and services that today’s vets are getting from the VA.

The success of the Legion and VFW posts on behalf of veterans has its downside. Today’s vets apparently don’t feel that Legion or VFW membership is necessary to obtain good service from the VA. The halls of Congress and state legislatures are not crawling with World War II and Korean War veterans today. You are going to get what your Legion and VFW comrades win for you. They deserve your support to wage that battle.

Veterans organizations don’t glorify war. They do remind us of the sacrifice that makes freedom and liberty our sacred heritage. When Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day are celebrated, we pause to remember that heritage.

Lest we forget.

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