Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor 70th Anniversary Reflections

How quickly life can change. With the quiet of that December morning a now long forgotten memory, a young sailor stands over a comrade and watches the USS Shaw explode in the distance amid the shattered remains of naval aircraft at NAS Ford Island. The young sailor, assigned to a PBY Catalina flying boat squadron as a mechanic, is now a stunned survivor witnessing the fiery aftermath of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred 70 years ago today.

The sailor in question is in all probability my ex-father-in-law, Robert Grommett. While he can't say with 100% certainty that the man in the iconic U.S. Navy image above is him, he knows he was there around that spot at about that time. Moreover, the stance and posture are very much his, even today. The family and I are more than willing to bet it is indeed him.

Bob is in very frail health now, but remains a symbol to me of the quiet fortitude that is the hallmark of the common man. When unimaginable disasters occur, invariably the response from people around the world is to somehow persevere and survive. Life goes on and so do they. And so did Bob.

Many have called his generation the "Greatest." While they were indeed remarkable, I find it hard to believe they were greater than the generation that marched off to Valley Forge or Gettysburg or Belleau Wood. And the young men and women since World War II, at the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Baghdad and Kandahar, are no less deserving of praise for their sacrifice and service.

Nevertheless, the generation that grew up in the Great Depression and fought in World War II deserve the highest respect. They survived the trials of peace and the horrors of a terrible war, with many returning to live a normal life full of dignity and quiet accomplishments. They were not perfect - what generation is? But they did the best they could with what they had, and that is an epitaph we should all aspire to.

Bob's generation is quickly leaving us, becoming memories to those who knew them and legends to those that didn't. But oh, what memories and legends they leave! Here's to you, Bob, seventy years after that infamous date, when the world seemed so stunningly bleak; here's to the life you forged in spite of it! It's an honor to know you.

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