To the point week of 12-9-10

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THIS WEEK, IN THE MIDST of busily running around trying to finish up Christmas shopping, many of us may race right past one of the most infamous, and important, days in our country’s history.

It was 69 years ago this past Tuesday, December 7th, 1941, that the Japanese executed a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The attack not only brought this country into World War II, but it brought a sense of patriotism and unity that this country rarely sees, at least up until the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

American flags flew at half mast on Tuesday, a silent reminder of all of those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor – but also to all of those who lost their lives because of Pearl Harbor.

As we commemorate this solemn occasion, it is also noteworthy that this is a point in history that is slipping into the annals of time.

As we observed December 7th, a day that then-President Franklin Roosevelt said was, “A day that will live in infamy”, we today, in 2010, note that 95-percent of those who survived the attack that day on Pearl Harbor have now passed away.

More and more we as a people and as a nation lose important first-hand accounts of what happened in history. Those who lived that history pass on, and we are left to “wish”.

“I wish I would have sat down with Uncle Joe and had him tell me those stories again.”

“I wish I would have sat down with dad and turned on a video camera and had him tell us about his time in the service.”

“I wish….”

You finish that sentence.

I had the distinct honor and priviledge 10 years ago to interview Bill Wiley, who at the time lived between Mt. Sterling and Center Square.

Bill Wiley was at Pearl Harbor that day, and I remember as he recalled each moment of that morning, how truly incredible his memory was.

When I shared that thought with him, I remember him looking me squarely in the eye and telling me that when a person lives through an experience like that, it is never far from your mind.

Bill went through the morning, and all of the events that followed. He described how Japanese sympathizers purposefully wrecked their vehicles on important roadways, blocking emergency teams and vehicles from getting to the attack site.

Bill Wiley said a lot that day, but – as I sat there – it was what he didn’t say that struck me the most.

Those times when he leaned back in his chair and he lifted his eyes slightly upward. It was as if he was still on that base and those planes were flying over and those sirens were blaring and people were yelling.

From his living room in Switzerland County, Bill Wiley was transported back to that day.

Both in mind and in heart.

The other thing that Bill Wiley never said that day, or anyday, was that he was sorry that he was there.

We as citizens sit and watch the war on television or follow in on the Internet; and there are some who think “I’d never do that. I’d never go there.”

But looking back on one of the most tragic days in American history, Bill Wiley never lost his sense of duty and he never lost his love of country.

He was a soldier in the U.S. Army, and he was willing to take on whatever duty his service meant. His country called, and he answered.

It is also on this week that I remember my dear friend, Bill Horton, who has also passed away.

Bill told me a story that he was sitting in the high school gym at Madison and it was his senior year and the school gathered to listen to President Roosevelt address the nation on the radio.

“When the President talked about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, I knew that I wasn’t going to make my high school graduation,” I remember Bill telling me.

He said that he and his buddies headed to the enlistment office to volunteer, and when his high school classmates were going through commencement, Bill and his buddies were learning the lessons of war.

So today as we remember the occasion of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there is a larger lesson to be learned.

Don’t let those oral histories pass away with your veteran.

We’re all busy people, but for those who have veteran soldiers in your families or in your neighborhoods, take the time to find some way to record their thoughts and memories for future generations.

Those men and women have incredibly brave and lasting stories to share, stories and accounts that will help each of us learn about and appreciate the struggles and the sacrifices that have been made in order to provide us with the freedoms that most of the time we take for granted.

So, with Christmas upon us, when you get out that video camera to record the events of Christmas Day, once the gifts are opened and the food is gone, point that camera at those relatives who served and ask them to tell you about their service to their country.

I would venture to guess that some of the things that they will tell you, you’ve never heard before. They may decide to share things that they’ve kept inside until now.

And I’m not just talking about World War II veterans, either. Veterans of the Korean War, and Vietnam War, and all of the other battles and conflicts that American soldiers have been in, from Grenada to Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom and all of the others – all of those men and women have stories to tell. They may not consider themselves heroes, but they are heroic.

Ask them to share with you, and then listen and appreciate what they did as much as what they said.

The saying “Those who forget history and doomed to repeat it,” was written by philosopher George Santayana, but his words should always ring true in the ears of a grateful American public.

Don’t let your history slip away. Take time to preserve and protect it.