Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Honoring Our Greatest Generation

On this day in 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Franklin Roosevelt said it was a date that will live in infamy. For a long time, it did. But our generation is fairly impervious to Pearl Harbor Day.

My grandfather often penned editorials to the local paper on Pearl Harbor Day. His fondness of writing for the newspaper seems to be genetic.

Tom Brokaw dubbed the men and women who served during World War II the “Greatest Generation.” In honor of the family tradition of Pearl Harbor Day columns, Tom Brokaw’s retirement and these men and women themselves, here is my grandfather’s story.

It was grandpa’s junior year of high school. Since he grew up in Indiana during the Depression, grandpa was a hard worker. He worked at a local gas station and delivered the South Bend Tribune.

It was Sunday. Grandpa woke up early and delivered the Sunday paper to his subscribers. Then he went to church.

December 7 was the date that nearby Chicago’s football teams faced off. A big game. Grandpa was listening to the game on the radio at his gas station. The Chicago Bears went on to beat the Chicago Cardinals 34-24, but nobody listened to the end.

At around one o’clock, an announcer broke into the broadcast with a news bulletin.

Our generation cannot point to a watershed moment in our lives the way the greatest generation points to Pearl Harbor Day. The terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001 are seared into our minds, but they did not change our lives. Three-years later I am still at Georgetown, and most of my friends are still at Purdue and Indiana. The malls are all still open. So are the car dealerships.

The difference for me is that now I have to take off my belt and remove my laptop from its case before I can get on an airplane. Sometimes a security officer scans my rubber shoes. And apparently some guy named Bernard Kerik can look at my library records and see that I took a really long time to return some books I checked out about the United Nations Population Fund.

Three years after Pearl Harbor Day, grandpa was not making sarcastic remarks about airport security. He was on a minesweeper in the South Pacific, hoping that there would be neither kamikazes nor storms on the horizon. Despite his wishes, storms fell. So did kamikazes.

Minesweeping was not exactly the safest thing in the Navy. But, as many of our grandparents recall, there were a lot of dangerous tasks to be done. They know because over 400,000 of their friends died in those jobs.

By the summer of 1945, Germany had surrendered. Japan continued to fight. In July, my grandpa’s minesweeper began practicing to sweep Bungo Suido. Bungo Suido was strategic waters for the Japanese and would be heavily guarded. And there would be a lot of mines.

Bungo Suido was too shallow for submarines. There were too many enemy ships for the minesweepers and too many mines for any other U.S. vessels. So the Navy devised a plan. They would wait until the fiercest of the winter storms. In the middle of the night, when visibility was reduced to zero from the raging storms, the minesweepers would creep into the harbor.

The U.S. Navy had developed sonar to guide the ships. Sonar was grandpa’s specialty. Guided by sonar, they would try to clear a path through the mines. The mines hid 12 feet beneath the surface; the swells of the water could be twice that. Swells, mines and minesweepers meant explosions. The storm clearing meant that the Japanese could see the minesweepers. The storm getting worse meant the swells got bigger.

The communications officer of the ship later estimated that less than half the minesweepers would have survived.

It is easy to imagine how I would react in my grandpa’s situation. After a few sarcastic remarks about airport security, I would take a swan dive from the stern and swim for Australia. That’s the difference between our generations: they were brave. We watch John Stewart.

Grandpa never considered swimming for Australia. I am not sure how good a swimmer he was, but he still remembered Pearl Harbor Day and was bound by duty. Bungo Suido had to be swept, even though he would probably die, because from Bungo Suido the Japanese military could be crippled. Bungo Suido was the approach to Hiroshima.

Grandpa did not die. Another plan was developed to force a Japanese surrender in Hiroshima.

I have had several professors who asked us to evaluate the use of the nuclear bomb. Whenever we take the class vote, whether or not we would drop the bomb, I vote to drop. Not because of any sort of moral calculus, but because the alternative to dropping the bomb was killing my grandpa.

Pearl Harbor Day may have been 53 years ago, but it still matters. It will always matter. The least we can do, once a year, is remember the freedom that they preserved.

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