Maroon dress, Pearl Harbor forever linked

“Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, as we go to meet the foe..
 Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, as we did the Alamo…”
Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7, 1941. The day that Franklin Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” But it hasn’t, not really. Over time, enemy nations become friends again, just like kids on the playground. That’s history.
Here’s how I remember Pearl Harbor: I was a child of 7 at a fancy luncheon recognizing my Grandpa Dave for his longtime service to the Knights of Pythias. The meal had been eaten; the master of ceremonies had presented the honoree with a gold pocket watch, beautifully engraved with name and date; and Zaidy had just risen to make his thank-you speech when noisy shouting exploded outside the Lodge hall. There were really newsboys then, and they really did shout “Extra! Extra!” The attack had happened, the president had responded, and we were at war!
Life goes on. After the initial excitement, we calmed down and resumed our seats. My Zaidy stood again, tore up his prepared remarks, then spoke directly to his five sons: “You will all go. I hope you will all come back.” And then he cried. I had never seen him cry before; I never saw him cry again.
The next day, my five uncles all enlisted in various branches of the service. But before they left, they took that pocket watch to a jeweler and had him add another line to its engraving: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
World War II veterans are now dying at the rate of a thousand a day, or more. My five uncles all did come back, but four are already gone. The one who remains was the youngest; he enlisted at 19 and is now 94, still of sound mind and body and the patriarch of our family, which because of him and my two great-grandsons now can boast of five generations. We have taken lots of pictures. We are truly grateful.
But I think back every year at this time to that song I learned in school, that kids all learned to sing: “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor…” There are not too many around now who do. Nobody sings it any more.
My mother was the oldest of the dozen children born to and raised by my Zaidy and his wife, my Boubby the Philosopher. They hung a five-star flag in a front window and went about their business. When the five “boys” came back, they went to work with their father. My uncles talked some about their war experiences, and I picked the brains of one of them when I was in high school and had to write a paper on a foreign city of my choice; I chose Liege, Belgium, because he had been there. Over the years, I learned from the others about other places. For them, like so many very young men who went off to war and returned from it, service had been — whether for good or ill — the great adventure of their lives.
After my mother died, I went back to the house where I grew up to go through her things. In the back of a closet was the maroon taffeta dress I had worn to that luncheon and never again; pinned on it was a note: “Remember Pearl Harbor.” That was her souvenir.
And here is mine: When the last of his four brothers passed away, my one living uncle gave me that gold pocket watch, the one my Zaidy received on Dec. 7, 1941. I wear it now, on a gold chain, on every patriotic occasion. I will wear it again next Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the day that was supposed to live forever in infamy, but like so many other important days has been transformed by the passage of time and faded into a faraway past. Still, as long as I live, I will Remember Pearl Harbor.

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