How many of you, as you read this, can actually remember — personally — Dec. 7, 1941? The day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? I can! I was 7 years old, the youngest person attending a luncheon honoring my grandfather for many years of service to his Knights of Pythias Lodge.
We had just finished eating; the Lodge president had made his speech of praise, and presented Grandpa with a gold pocket watch, when all hell broke loose outside the Lodge Hall. Everyone raced to the windows and “threw them open” — they were the old-fashioned kind. The shouting was about the bombing, news that had just reached the mainland.
After absorbing this shock, everyone sat back down again, and Grandpa stood up to make his reply of thanks. But instead, he tore up his prepared speech, pointing to each of his five sons sitting there together. “You will all be going,” he said, “and I hope you’ll all come back.” And then he cried. I had never seen my Zeide cry before, and I never saw him cry again. Not ever…
The next day, all my five uncles went out together to enlist in their various service branches: two each to regular Army and Merchant Marine, the fifth to what was then called the Army Air Corps. But before they reported for duty, they took the watch to the jeweler who had engraved name, date, and reason for event on the back of its case, and had him add another line, curving around the bottom: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
And for years now, I’ve had the watch. All my uncles did come back; I remember the day when my Grandma took down the five-star service flag that faced the street from her living room window. Now they are all long gone, but the last one gave it to me — as the oldest child of his oldest sibling — for perpetual safekeeping. I have always done more than just “keep” it: I have worn it on a chain around my neck every Dec. 7 since, and on all of America’s many other patriotic celebration dates. It has been my duty to do so, and to tell the story that goes with it. I am sorry that the pandemic kept me from making any really personal appearances with it this year…
When my mother passed away in 1984, with my father long-gone years before, I returned to my childhood home to help ready the house for sale to others. Going through the contents of my mother’s personal spaces yielded a memorable few surprises: One was finding, tucked away in a corner of an underwear drawer, five cameos that one of her brothers had brought back from his service time in Italy. I took them to a jeweler and had them set as pins — one each for myself, my daughter, and my three granddaughters. But the most surprising thing was in the far back of her clothes closet: the maroon taffeta dress that I had worn as a 7-year-old for that Dec. 7 luncheon, and never worn again. Pinned to it was a note in my mother’s handwriting: “Remember Pearl Harbor” is all it said. It was enough.
I chose not to bring the dress, with its note, back to Dallas with me; it was my mother’s memory — to be put to final rest along with her — because I already had my own personal, tangible memory of that day, to wear, and to assure that I would never forget. Also, never to be forgotten: the song sung in my childhood choir at the time; I can still sing it to this day: “Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor — as we go to meet the foe; Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor — as we did the Alamo…We will always remember — those who died to make us free…Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor, and go on to victory!”
Now, I wear the watch, so the memory will never die.