OHIO VALLEY — Dec. 7, 2015, was a typical December day along the Ohio River; cold rain fell as American Legion members from Meigs County stood at attention on the Middleport levee to remember what happened on this day 74 years ago.
The gray clouds and chilly wind was a sharp contrast to what it was like in Hawaii on that fateful day. Blue skies and warm ocean breezes were blowing over the islands as American military personnel and civilians went about their tasks. The geographic isolation and tropical climate easily lulled inhabitants into a feeling of security, one that was shattered forever in the American psyche when seemingly out of nowhere, Japanese fighters appeared in the skies over Pearl Harbor.
It was 7:50 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, when the first wave of Japanese bombers began their attack on the U.S. Navy base. By 9:55 a.m., the surprise assault by 353 Japanese bombers was over. Nineteen U.S. ships and 188 aircraft were destroyed. Approximately 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,200 wounded.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress.
“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy,” he paused and then continued, “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Following those words, Congress passed a resolution declaring war on Japan. In the days that followed, the U.S. would enter the war on a second front, as Germany, an ally of Japan, declared war on the U.S.
Most of the casualties that day were naval, and in the long days ahead, Pearl Harbor would become a rallying cry for the American Navy in the Pacific.
After a prayer to honor those who had fallen, the American Legion members stood on the hilltop overlooking the river. As is custom for naval disasters, a lone member silently tossed a wreath into the river, followed by a 21-gun salute.
Taps played as the wreath floated out into the cold waters, and the rain began to fall again.
When asked why the ceremony was held, the members all concurred that it was to remember those who lost their lives that day and to remember the conflict that ensued as a result of the attack.
The ceremony was hosted by the Sweeney Barrett American Legion Post 128, named in honor of two members who were decorated WWII veterans.
As Post 128 Commander Dewey Smith, a Korean War veteran, reflected on the day’s observance, he said that military personnel take seriously the oath to serve their country, anywhere and anytime.
“I still honor the oath I made 51 years ago,” he said. “So do all the veterans. We continue to honor the fallen and to remember, it is important to remember their sacrifices. That is why we are here today.”
Roscoe Wise, a Vietnam veteran and Post 128 member, echoed Smith’s words when he said, “It is up to us to remember, to teach the next generation why the sacrifices these people made were important.”
They both ended with the words, “Freedom isn’t free.”
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext.2551.