Yesterday I went over to Faneuil Hall (the Armory) for the City of Boston's 68th Pearl Harbor Day Observance.
These were remarks made by CDR Cooper, USN, USS Constitution, 71st in Command.
Commander Barbour, President Tower, Commander Sancranti, President Studebaker, Commander Tabbut, Commisioner Vaillancourt, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today as we remember the events of December 7th, 1941. I’d also like to say thank you to each and every veteran who is standing here with us. To each of you I’d like to say thank you for coming and thank you for your service to our country.
I have the honor and privilege to command 75 of the U.S. Navy’s finest Sailors. These amazing young men and women are a visible reminder of the Navy’s continuing commitment to defend our country and our way of life. One of the things I frequently tell them is to ask “why?”. I tell them to challenge the status quo...to look and learn “the why” behind everything they do. I don’t think it’s enough to go through life, in whatever capacity, and just go with the flow. I believe that everyone has a right, and in fact a responsibility, to understand why they are performing the different aspects of their job, or the countless other things in which we dedicate our time. Asking that simple question can lead to a world of understanding. So it’s with that in mind that I’d like to take the next few minutes and explore with you the reasons that we are all here today.
I’d like you to to take a moment and ask yourself that same question...“why?”. Why am I here today? December 7th, 1941 was nearly 70 years ago. There is absolutely no doubt that it was one of those singular events that define a nation and her people. But even still, there have been many of those types of events in our past. So what is it about this one in particular that led us to be in this room today?
It may be that you are here just to honor those men and women who fought that day. They are all certainly worthy of that. 2388 made the ultimate sacrifice. An additional 1178 were wounded. Countless others contributed in the defense of the island. In the wake of the attack, 16 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Crosses, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Stars were awarded to the American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat at Pearl Harbor.
It could be that you have a personal connection to someone who served at Pearl Harbor or at some other point during that war. Maybe you are here to help keep the past alive. As my Sailors and I can certainly attest, connecting with our heritage is important. Ceremonies such as this are just one way that we can do this. While I have been there twice during my time in the Navy, it wasn’t until recently that I had what I could consider a personal connection with the attack on Pearl Harbor. A few weeks ago, I was honored to meet our nations oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, retired Navy LT John Finn. In addition to having that distinction, LT Finn is also the last surviving Pearl Harbor recipient. I'd like to tell you a bit about him. He's one hundred years old, and his mind is as sharp as a cutless. On that day almost 70 years ago, LT Finn arrived at the base as the attack was in progress. He found a movable platform used for gunnery training, attached a 50 caliber machine gun to it and pushed the platform into an open area, to give him a clear view of the attacking aircraft. He fired on the Japanese planes for the next two hours, even after being seriously wounded, until the attack had ended. In total, he received 21 distinct wounds, including a bullet through the foot and an injury which rendered his left arm numb. It was only when specifically ordered, that he left his post to receive medical attention.
I was fortunate to be able to spend about an hour with that incredible man. I wish it was longer. While I wouldn’t presume to call him a friend, although I would love to, I will call him one of my heroes.
Maybe you have another reason.
Let me tell you mine.
“Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy”. These words said by President Franklin Roosevelt the day after the attack, comprise what may be the most famous, or well known phrase describing the events of that terrible day. If you take the time to read or listen to the rest of what the President said, I think there’s one statement that resonates a little more...at least it does with me. “With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.”
It is within that statement, that I find my own answer to "the why?". The unbounding determination of our people...the American people...begins within each of us. It is the underpinning of who and what we are as a people. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of American resolve and that “unbounding determination” more on display than it was that day.
I am truly thankful for all of those who have given so much for our country. Words can never sufficiently describe the events of that day to those who were there. But spending an hour or so to honor them is such an easy thing to do.
In the end, the answer to our “why” is unique to each of us. I can tell you that I would be here, even if I wasn't speaking. The sacrifices of those that have gone before are important and should be recognized at every opportunity. By honoring one person or one group for a particular thing such as those that fought at Pearl Harbor, we also honor all of the others who sacrificed for our country. And ultimately, we honor all of America.
In closing, I would ask that you share your answer to the "why" with your friends, your families, and others that you care about.
The "why" is important.
CDR Gillen, USN (ret), 59th in Command, USS Constitution looked snappy in his dress blues. Although CDR Cooper received kudos from a fan on his appearance. A woman came up afterwards to introduce herself as a World War II veteran. After she paid her compliment to CDR Cooper, she qualified it by saying he was young enough to be her grandson.