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Memories of Pearl Harbor and why it matters to you 78 years later

Editor’s note: Portions of this column were originally published on Sept. 12, 2018.

Saturday, Dec. 7 marks the 78th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, an event that drew the country into World War II and changed global history.

The events of that day are memorialized every year during a ceremony at the site of the USS Arizona in Honolulu, Hawaii. Today, there are three remaining survivors who were aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. Only one of the survivors attended the annual ceremony.

Lou Conter, 98, arrived this week after missing last year’s celebration, the first time no survivors attended.

“I always come out to pay respect for the 2,403 men that were killed that day, including 1,177 of my shipmates on the Arizona,” he said, CNN affiliate KHNL reported.

The other two remaining from the Arizona are unable to travel to Hawaii, KHNL said. Donald Stratton is 97 and Ken Potts is also nearing 100.

Two Arizona survivors died in 2019: Lonnie Cook in July and Lauren Bruner in September.

“(Survivors and veterans) have the ultimate irreplaceable quality. They were there. It wasn’t the pages of a book — it was your life. It was your mother, your brother. It was your house going up in flames in bombings. And it isn’t just World War II. The same thing happens for any important period,” Rob Citino, senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans told CNN last year.

My grandmother, who passed away nearly two years ago after 100 years of life, could remember vividly the events of that day. The day after the attack, on Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his “day of infamy” speech over America’s airwaves. My grandmother often recalled hearing those words over the radio.

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” FDR said to congress.

World War II had officially begun, but as a 23-year-old young woman, my grandmother did not fully understand the significance of what was happening at the time.

Those who were old enough to witness that day have never forgotten the sense of unity that seemed to prevail in the ensuing weeks in their community and across the country.

Similarly, I recall walking into my first period world geography class at Rigby High School 17 years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, for what could be considered my generation’s “day of infamy.”

The TV was on. I remember vividly the live footage on “Good Morning America” of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City.

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Just as clear in my mind is the plume of smoke coming from the lower tower and people scrambling in fear.

I also remember seeing President Bush on TV several days later addressing the first responders near the rubble at ground zero.

“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

The war on terror had officially begun, but as a 15-year-old kid, I did not fully understand the significance of what was happening at the time.

I will never forget what I witnessed that day and the sense of unity that seemed to prevail in the ensuing weeks in my community and across the country.

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