A TV commercial has been running for the last several weeks that begins by urging viewers to mark December 7 on their calendars. It grabbed my attention the first time I saw it because I knew the significance of December 7 or thought I did. It is the date of one of the most important events in our country’s history. I anticipated some news about a Pearl Harbor Day observance or maybe just a PSA about the attack’s upcoming 70th anniversary. But the spot went on to explain that December 7 marks the end of open enrollment for Medicare.
Medicare enrollment is certainly important and I’m not faulting the ad in any way. It stresses the need to do something by a certain date and stresses what that date is. Although I’m sure it’s entirely accidental, the fact that the date is December 7 may really increase the ad’s effectiveness. The majority of people who need to be concerned with Medicare are exactly the same people for who December 7 is a date which continues to live in infamy. The full date is December 7, 1941 but just December 7 is enough. To my generation and one or two on either side of it, December 7 means just one thing.
I wasn’t around in 1941 but I showed up just as soon as I could after the war. December 7 and June 6 were two of the very first dates I learned about. However, despite an almost instinctive connection between December 7 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I don’t believe I’ve ever attended any sort of commemorative service for the day. I don’t recall even seriously considering it until a few years ago when I became aware of a ceremony conducted in New Richmond, Ohio. New Richmond is an Ohio River town that I tend to visit fairly often. Just about everything I learn about the town, which is home to that cardboard boat race I wrote about here, makes me like it more. So I’ve thought about going for a couple of years but this is the first time I actually made it. This year’s New Richmond Pearl Harbor Remembrance was held on Sunday, December 4.
New Richmond has been doing this for twenty-plus years. In the past, it has been held at the park near the river and may still be on dry days. Today wasn’t one of them. Things began with the entrance of a sizable color guard followed by the singing of the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance to the flag. The anthem was sung solo by a fellow who I know nothing about beyond his name. John Hale‘s a cappella performance of The Star Spangled Banner was right up there with many big-name auto-tuned renditions I’ve heard. A very nice job. There were speeches, of course, but all were brief and pertinent. More nice jobs. Then we came to a point in the program labeled “Introduction of Pearl Harbor Survivors”.
When New Richmond began holding this remembrance, it was attended by approximately twenty-five area residents who had survived that horrible day in Hawaii. Just three remain. Two are in nursing homes and unable to attend. Joe Whitt stood alone. Joe enlisted when he was seventeen and turned eighteen just a couple of months before the attack. People familiar with pictures of Joe from that time say that he looked fourteen. The math is fairly simple. This is the seventieth anniversary. Joe is eighty-eight. He stood straight and recounted events of that day with frightening clarity. He and others fired at the planes with rifles. Because his ship, the USS San Francisco, was stripped for maintenance, these were the only weapons available to them. One of his shots, which he doesn’t believe did any real damage, was at a pilot whose face was clearly visible at “about the height of the ceiling” of the high school gymnasium. Even though Joe went on to fight in seventeen battles and do a lot more shooting with much bigger guns and a lot more impact, there is no doubt that his memory of that pilot’s face is vivid and crystal clear.
The left hand picture shows local Buckeye Boys State representatives presenting a wreath to Joe Whitt as Ralph Shepherd of the American Legion looks on. Today, the actual anniversary of the attack, it will be placed at the riverside monument and another will be cast into the Ohio River.
As far as I know, this is the only Pearl Harbor observance in the area. Someone said that Addyston, on the west side of Cincinnati, may still have one but I could find nothing online. In some respects, having the horrible events of December 7, 1941 recede in our collective memory is a good thing. Unfortunately, they are not receding so much on their own as being pushed back by more recent and equally horrible events. Yes, we should never forget events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor but it would sure be nice if all such memories were really really old ones.
With the Remembrance scheduled for a Sunday, my first thought was to make it the subject of the blog post for that same day. As Sunday approached, I realized that I would not have a book review ready for Wednesday and that I had a small herd of electrified horses trotting about my brain. It would be better, I surmised, to post the horse parade stuff on Sunday, the Remembrance stuff on Wednesday, and hope to have a book review by next Wednesday. Sorry to disillusion anyone who thought this was all carefully planned weeks in advance.