James M. Fitzgerald was on the USS Henley 74 years ago. The Henley was credited with shooting down the first Zero in WWII that morning and it was one of only three ships that made it out of the harbor. The Chief volunteered for subs upon his return to Pearl. He then spent three years on war patrol in the Pacific. One of the “boats” he served on as Chief Engineer was the famous USS Bowfin, now on display at the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii.
I never got to meet my grandfather, I heard about him all the time, and the great adventures he was on in the Pacific. He was one of those heroes you get to hear about, always want to meet, but somewhere in the deep immature mind of a child realize, you never really will get to. He's the guy who Americans want to idolize, a winner The American who when out numbered, on a crippled submarine, and ordered the submarine to head directly towards a Japanese battleship, and won.
My grandfather, and thousands of troops like him, woke up on that infamous morning not expecting anything in particular. But as fate would have it, they were cast into the fray of a war that had consumed every corner of the globe. American boys would be sent to lands far away on two separate fronts, and it would take the American people a miserable and frightening 4 years before they would get to see their loved ones return, if they would get to see them return. The war would claim over 60 million lives by the time it would end in 1945.
Why do we remember Pearl Harbor? Pearl Harbor was a lonely military outpost on a chain of islands, the islands not a state for 21 more years. A military attack, a surprise, but no more than any other attack. An attack that seems so distant now, and overshadowed by our more recent history against new enemies striking at the heartland.
We remember Pearl Harbor, because like the attack on the Twin Towers, life for America would be forever different. But there is something else we must always hold dear to the remembrance of Pearl Harbor. America had been suffering, a great economic distress still plagued her, and despite the news of horrors from Europe, America could not motivate herself for a war on the behalf of a people on the other side of the world. But with a single event, America awoke. America rallied to her friends, and the economic giant took off. A military that was behind the technological curve boomed, industries were established with such sufficiency that massive bombers were turned out not in days, but in hours. A people who had no heart for anything beyond their door were now conserving and donating and pledging their lives to causes in two theaters of war.
America made a decision, she could have recoiled, lifted the embargo she had placed on Japan, stopped supplying the Australians and British, and licked her wounds from a crippling naval defeat. But instead, America rose, there was no political correctness about calling the evils in Europe any more, and Americans set out to eradicate evil.
Pearl Harbor is remembered for many reasons, but ultimately it is because no matter the generation, or how far separated the people may become of her government and political decisions, they are still Americans. There still beats the heart of the dragon that once arose, and could arise again, the heart of winners still beat.