Was Sunday, December 7th
That used to have real resonance, not that long ago. My pop was of the “greatest generation.” A merchant marine officer, he got paid to sail cargo to the Brits and Russians before the war and during it. Used to sail the Murmansk Run. A tough one, that. Bombers, U-boats. The very sea was an enemy – so cold that it wasn’t worth stopping to pick a man up, if he fell over the side. He’d be dead of the exposure before a boat could get to him, let alone the risk to the convoy.
His ship got hit by a dive bomber, just outside Murmansk – they ran it ashore before it could sink, and he spent six months there on repairs. Got her back to New York. She was sunk in the Indian Ocean on her next float, torpedoed by a sub. My dad had rotated off.
There were times when I was feeling low that I read a letter he wrote me while I was a plebe at the Naval Academy. He talked about being under fire, seeing ships alongside you blow up, or sail beneath the waves with their bows shot off, screws still turning. The screams of the men in the water. The fact that you couldn’t stop. Put things in perspective.
He could tell you exactly where he was on December 7th, 1941 – all of his generation could.
For those of us who grew up in the 60′s and 70′s, it was the day JFK died – that’s what our elders remembered. I was too young, although I do remember watching the news and telling my folks that King Martin Luther had been assassinated. And seeing the dread in their eyes, but not understanding it.
Our day was supposed to be the day Challenger blew up. I still remember that. Francis Fukuyama had not yet gotten around to telling us that history had ended.
I guess some people noticed that yesterday was the 62nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The date that 2788 people died in a treacherous attack. The date we were never supposed to forget, or forgive.
But we’ve got our own date now, don’t we? Just say the date, and ask someone where they were – nothing else is required. December 7th, and September 11th. Two dates that every American has pretty much got locked into the wetware, like his own birthday, or anniversary. Two dates is enough.
The next day “Le Monde” told us that they were all Americans, now. Hmm. They’re not saying that much anymore.
A German navy frigate sailed by the USS Winston Churchill a couple of days after September 11th, with a banner over her side that said, “we are with you!” That was nice to hear, and we got the same courtesy from another German navy ship three months ago, this year. She asked to come alongside one of our carriers, and the crew was all topside, in their service dress blues, caps off. A nice touch, much appreciated. Who could have ever predicted that the French, who we fought alongside and with in two world wars would treat us so cooly, while the Germans, who we fought against in the same two struggles, would have reacted so differently?
I wonder if our date will last as long in our memories as dad’s did – some folks seem ready to get over it, to move on. Much better to get back to ’round the clock coverage of the Michael Jackson arrest, or the Scott Peterson trial.
I hope and pray our grandkids never have to have a date of their own. I guess that’s why we’re on the ground in Iraq – to say farewell to all that. Maybe it won’t work, maybe it will even backfire. Could happen. But the old way wasn’t working very well – we kept getting new dates to remember.
I guess it’s worth a try.