Bombs rained from the skies, well to be more accurately, from under the bellies of Japanese aircraft. Bullets from those same aircraft strafed, not just the ships, but the surrounding harbor, killing nearly 2,500 servicemen and civilians and crippling or destroying 20 American ships and 300 airplanes.
My cousin Loren Leigh Beardsley died that day. I was not born yet that December 7, 1941 when he died and was later buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Today he became more than a sailor/relative whose death was discussed only in hushed tones at family gatherings. And I wondered if my cousin’s death, son of my father’s sister, influenced my dad’s enlistment enlisted a year-and-a-half later in his mid-thirties. My dad then served in the Pacific on an LST, perhaps in his mind replacing Loren. So of course, I cried there in the darkness of the theater.
I cried for all the young men who lost their lives, for all the families forever grieving, and for all those who survived forever changed. For all the misunderstood behavior when those young men returned with scars that couldn’t be seen. And it came to me that I am surrounded today by more young men and women returning from other military conflicts with more invisible wounds.
It occurs to me how a writer paints pictures with words, and our minds transfer those words and letters into pictures that may or may not capture the writer’s intent. But this movie was another experience altogether. In this movie, you saw bombs drop. You saw torpedoes fly through the water and into the air and into the hearts of ships. You saw the flames of fierce fires sear the skin of sailors, scarcely out of their teens. And if you paid attention, you could even smell the acrid black smoke billowing from the stricken ships and heat the cries of the sailors dropping into the fuel-coated and flaming waves.
You saw their racks, little more than cots suspended by chains from the ceiling, narrow and four high. You saw the medic’s quarters where burns and bullet wounds were bandaged on a trolley barely a body wide. You saw the dead at Pearl Harbor, some represented by little more than a limb, in rows, each one covered with a blue tarp out of respect. And I wondered if the covering was to spare those caring for the dead with the enormity of pain represented there.
Then as the movie progressed, I watched gunners spinning their ship cannons around to trace the oncoming aircraft or to shoot torpedoes into enemy ships. I watched the second seat gunners in those tiny planes target enemy aircraft, and again spin their machine guns shooting, hoping to take down the enemy before the enemy took them down.
And I cried for my dad and our family and the baggage he carried back from Pacific, the heaviest not in his duffle bag.
Veteran’s Day is always remembered in our family. I can count fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons, in-laws, and even a couple of nieces, who have served in the Army or the Navy or the Marines. But we remember their service in a somewhat detached way. It was always a challenge to get any of the vets to talk about the old war-times, something they could only really share with someone else who knew what the words uttered or only thought meant.
Now when I see a veteran wearing any insignia from his service, when I hear Taps, or when I watch a parade, be it Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day, it will be through a new lens. The tears that will come will be shed, not just for the brave men and women who went, but also for all of their brave husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and children who remained behind, always watching, hoping and praying for the safe return of their loved ones.
And this year, December 7 will be for me a day of new memories as I think about my cousin, his young life ended scarcely before it began.
Photo from https://www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack/The-attack Please go to this site for more information on the Pearl Harbor attack.