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National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. | U.S. Pacific Command | Dec. 7, 2016

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration 
Marking the 75th Anniversary of the Attacks on Oahu
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI
December 7, 2016
As Delivered


Ladies and gentlemen, let's give it up one more time for Petty Officer Lamonica and the Pacific Fleet Band for that inspirational rendition of the national anthem.

You can bet that the men and women we honor today – and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago – never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played.

Thanks, John, for that introduction and for your terrific stewardship of this historic region. Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Hearing the words ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ means something special for every American, every day.

But today, on December 7th, it takes on extraordinary significance, as we’re joined here in this hallowed place by World War II veterans and survivors of the attacks on military bases all across Oahu including right here at Pearl Harbor.

That fateful Sunday morning 75 years ago, they were about to conduct morning colors when they were surprised to hear the sounds of real ‘bombs bursting in air’ instead of the reassuring melody of our nation’s anthem. At that ‘dawn’s early light’, they ran to battle stations and to the sound of the guns, as they moved boldly to begin the defense of our country.

So please help me welcome again, these patriots with a grateful nation's round of applause.

Folks, Superintendent Ashwell mentioned our many distinguished guests, but I would like to recognize a few of our honored attendees...

• Governors Ariyoshi, Torres, Ducey, and of course Governor Ige... Mayors Caldwell and Carvalho, state and city leaders... Undersecretary Davidson;
• Esteemed members of our consular and diplomatic corps;
• Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, Admiral Fargo, fellow retired and serving Flag and General Officers;
• FOX Sports executives Eric Shanks and Larry Jones – thanks for highlighting our veterans, past and present, for the second year in a row;
• Gary Sinise, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood – thanks for entertaining our troops;
• Leaders of the National Park Service... thank you for what you do every day to remember these hallowed places and congratulations on your centennial year.

Distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen, just prior to the attacks 75 years ago – on a morning not unlike this one – people not unlike us were waking up to enjoy another day in paradise. Indeed, some of the veterans joining us today were probably thinking about spending the day on the beach, playing baseball, hanging out with friends, or listening to the battle of the bands at Bloch Arena right here on this base.

No one knew it would be the last moment of peace for almost 4 years.

The horrific events that took place here caught America... her Navy... her Army... her Army Air Corps... her Marine Corps and the Territory of Hawaii by surprise. We were attacked all across Oahu: at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Field... at Bellows... Kaneohe... Hickam... and of course, right here at Pearl Harbor.

And it fell upon the shoulders of brave Americans, like these here in the front rows, to respond to crisis that fateful day.

The surprise assault by the Imperial Japanese Navy lasted all of 110 chaotic minutes... almost as long as this speech is gonna be.

It was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism, even as it was a day of sacrifice and immeasurable loss. In less than two hours, there were over 2,400 killed, 1,200 wounded, a majority of the US Pacific Fleet taken out of action. Catastrophic by any standard.

The scars remain and we see them all around us. The battleships USS Arizona and USS Utah still entombed in these waters behind me... the USS Oklahoma memorial... the bullet holes in the buildings at Ford Island and Hickam Field... and on the bodies and in the minds of the veterans here with us today. These scars remind us of our history and how America responded with conspicuous valor.

Today, we have a precious opportunity to reflect – to reflect on what it means to be a patriot, to reflect on what it means to be a nation tested by war, and to reflect on both the costs and the blessings of liberty.

They say that hindsight is 20/20, for history has shown us that the alarm bells had been sounding throughout the 1930s. As America looked eastward, toward Europe, we watched as a military dictatorship in Germany began to grow in power and fascist Italy allied itself to Nazi Germany. But we looked westward as well, where we saw the militaristic rise of Imperial Japan.

In fact, we relocated the Pacific Fleet from California to Hawaii in 1940, a move designed to give pause to a potential adversary – the original Rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, if you will.

Even so, 75 years ago, the United States was strategically surprised, caught flat-footed by Imperial Japan. The military and first responders here in the islands mustered an incredibly brave defense against staggering odds. They engaged the enemy as best they could with what they had.

For those who gave their last full measure of devotion for their nation that day, we feel a deep sense of sorrow. Yet, we are also inspired by their great gift to the world – the gift of freedom itself. They did not go quietly into that night, and along with those who survived, a reluctant nation emerged to fight and ultimately win World War II.

Those who survived Pearl Harbor also left us a warning: ‘Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America alert. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’ An imperative to never to be caught by strategic surprise again.

But, 15 years ago, we were again surprised by a major attack on our soil. Not by a nation-state this time, but by terrorists. As before, in the preceding decade, alarm bells had been ringing. Even as we worked hard to understand those alarms, few, if any, could have anticipated the methodology behind those events in New York... in Shanksville... in the Pentagon... on that fateful autumn day.

Now, I’m not a preacher-man – in fact, the Chief of Chaplains, Admiral Margaret Kibben, is in the audience here. But there's a passage in the Good Book which defines, for me, those who responded in 1941, and again, in 2001, are.

You see, in Isaiah, God was searching for the right man – a man with the right stuff, if you will. A man to embark on a dangerous mission and go into a dangerous land.

'Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?' And it was Isaiah who responded, 'Here am I Lord... send me.'

Here am I... send me. Powerful words. When our nation was attacked 75 years ago today, and again 60 years later on another sunny day – this time in New York – Lady Liberty called out in her pain and anguish.

'Whom shall I send? Who shall go for me?'

And everywhere Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians called out...

'Here am I America. Send me! Here am I America. Send me!'

America is the country she is because of young men and women who are willing to forego wearing a business suit, forego strolling down Easy Street, and forego living the good life. To wear instead the cloth of the nation. To travel instead along an uncertain road fraught with peril. To live instead a life on the ragged edge of danger. To live lives that matter.

America is blessed beyond riches. Our nation is blessed to have strong men and women with exceptional courage who are willing and able to step forward – to do whatever it takes to defend America, whenever Lady Liberty is in jeopardy.

Just like the Greatest Generation who answered that clarion call of duty after Pearl Harbor – and Korea, and Vietnam, and the Cold War, and the Gulf War – a new generation of men and women volunteered to stand in the gap for us following 9/11. Since then we have pursued and engaged our enemies, even to the ends of the earth – and we are still at it today.

A free nation cannot survive without those who are willing to place service to country ahead of service to self.

So, ladies and gentlemen, every December 7th, we remember the past actions of our veterans on Oahu because they inspire us today – and because they shape our future.

A tour across present day Hawaii reveals the depth of America’s tenacity to protect our enduring national interests in the Pacific – for America is a Pacific nation, a Pacific power, and a Pacific leader. Secretary of Defense Carter has rightfully called the Indo-Asia-Pacific the most consequential region for America's future. This area already drives global economic prosperity, and will do so for the next century. Ours is a region of rapid growth, not only in population, not only in industry, but also in competition for scarce resources and in military capability.

President Reagan once said we can't be innocents abroad in a world without innocence. You've just witnessed a demonstration of America's resolve, as the USS Halsey steamed around Ford Island and F-22 Raptors flew overhead. And on the pier next to us is the mighty aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, the poster ship of America’s national will.

Your military forces based here, and throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, stand watch to ensure our nation remains vigilant, to keep America safe, and to defend our very way of life.

The best fighting force the world has ever seen exists because of the legacy of the men and women who did their duty when our nation needed it the most – 75 years ago, today.

The selfless service of the Greatest Generation – both the veterans and the civilians on the homefront who supported them – won the peace by ending a war. They defined our national heritage, and today, we thank them for their service and their faith in our nation.

Folks, this week’s 75th commemoration events have renewed my confidence in the future of our country. From all walks of life and across generations, I’ve heard people telling their stories. I saw tears and laughter, sorrow and joy.

I'm reminded of the stories my father would tell me about his war experiences as an enlisted man stationed aboard the Hawaii-based USS Lexington – an aircraft carrier that departed Pearl Harbor just a few days before the attack.

My dad and so many from the Greatest Generation are no longer with us. But we can still hear their stories of duty, of honor and of courage. Their ghosts walk amongst us. Their spirits speak to us –'Protect this house; this we'll defend.'

And we're fortunate, indeed, to listen and learn from living World War II veterans – including President Bush, Senators Dole and Akaka, Governor Ariyoshi, Nisei warriors, Tuskegee Airmen, and so many others who are with us today or watching the broadcast across America.

What we hear is that the future belongs to the brave.

Our country is both defined by her storied past and invigorated by her boundless future. We rise today to author that future, emboldened by the intrepid service of those who came before us, and carried onward by those young men and women who serve today.

As America’s Joint Force Commander here in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, I give you my word that the 380,000 civilians and military warriors that comprise the U.S. Pacific Command are ready to fight tonight – and win – so that we may always be free.

We remember Pearl Harbor and the attacks across Oahu. We remember the response by America's sons and daughters who brought the 'broad stripes and bright stars' through many perilous fights: at Coral Sea... at North Africa... at Midway... at Guadalcanal... at the Vosges Mountains... at Leyte Gulf... at Normandy... at Okinawa... and at Iwo Jima high atop Mount Suribachi.

We also recall and honor the sacrifices made during World War II by the many allied nations so that the world could see freedom renewed.

Today, we work with allies and partners across the globe to protect those hard-won freedoms, including our staunch ally, Japan. Reconciliation turned once bitter enemies into the closest of friends, united by shared values and shared interests. Yet another lasting legacy of that Greatest Generation.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we look upon the majestic USS Arizona Memorial behind me, take comfort in knowing that our departed World War II veterans continue to stand vigilant watch as guardian angels of our nation.

So I’ll conclude by saying that today’s joint forces have assumed liberty’s mantle, passed down in an unbroken chain, watch-to-watch, for 75 years. No one – and I mean no one – should doubt that a strong US military will continue to stand a global watch for generations to come... as the legacy and lessons of Pearl Harbor are passed to our children, and our children’s children, who will also stand the watch to continue the fight against tyranny and injustice.

To America’s World War II patriots here and watching at home, we will never forget your courage under considerable fire and seemingly insurmountable odds. Because of you, our future remains bright. We owe you an immeasurable debt and we can’t thank you enough for answering the call of duty when Lady Liberty needed it the most.

May God bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen – past and present – who stood the watch and answered that clarion call to duty. May God bless the beautiful state of Hawaii... and may God bless the United States of America, which has always been – and forever shall be – the land of free and the home of the brave.

Thank you very much.

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