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National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration “Forging the Future - The Unconquerable Spirit of America in 1943"

By ADM Phil Davidson | U.S. Indo-Pacific Command | Dec. 7, 2018

ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration “Forging the Future - The Unconquerable Spirit of America in 1943”
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii

December 7, 2018
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Brian, for the introduction and for your leadership and stewardship of this historic place and thank you Superintendent Ashwell for your remarks this morning.

There are a number of distinguished guests here today, but in the interest of time I won’t try to acknowledge everyone, but I do want to take just a moment to recognize a few honored attendees …

  • Secretary Perdue
  • State and city leaders … Governor Ige … Mayors Caldwell and Isoda
  • Esteemed members of our consular and diplomatic corps;
  • Fellow Flag and General Officers;
  • Leaders of the National Park Service;
Welcome and thank you for your attendance today.

Most importantly, a special welcome to the ‘Greatest Generation,’ our World War Two veterans and Pearl Harbor survivors, to whom we owe an immeasurable debt for your heroic actions.

It is truly an honor to be speaking to all of you today... December 7th...on these hallowed grounds.

For the many, the date is the reminder. For those of us that live here, serve here, I will tell you we think of this day, every day.

We can never forget the heavy price paid 77 years ago… 21 vessels damaged or sunk, 170 planes destroyed, more than 2,400 dead and 1,200 wounded -- Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and civilians.

Despite these heavy losses, it did not break the American spirit – in fact it charged it. We quickly prepared for the long hard war to come.

Just over a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in his 1943 State of the Union speech, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the challenges that remained, saying:

“The past year was perhaps the most crucial for modern civilization; the coming year will be filled with violent conflicts- yet with high promise of better things.”

He went on to say “First in the importance in the American scene has been the inspiring proof of the great qualities of our fighting men.”

It was these qualities, the resilience and determination, that helped shape this country’s, and indeed the entire world’s, future.

The tide of the war started to change in 1943, with the fight to secure Guadalcanal ending in February, giving the U.S. and our Allies their first major offensive victory in the Pacific and a stop to Japanese expansionism.

In June, Japanese forces left the Aleutian Islands, their last foothold in the Western hemisphere, and the Allies began to move through the central and southwest Pacific.

On the other side of the world, in North Africa, Rommel was forced to retreat, and the Allies began their push up through Italy, causing the Italians to drop out of the war. Meanwhile, planning began for the eventual landing of Allied forces in Western Europe.

Though the tide of the war was indeed changing in 1943, the price to be paid remained steep.

In November of that year, our Marines, supported by Naval gunfire support and air support, won the first contested amphibious landing in the Pacific on the Tarawa atoll. 

Facing an entrenched and determined Japanese defense, the Marines fought valiantly over three days and secured the strategic airfield.

The Battle for Tarawa saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war to date, with nearly 6,400 Japanese, Koreans, and Americans killed in just three days of fighting.

The heavy loss of life served as a reminder that, although the Allies were making progress and shaping the future of the war, it would come at a significant human cost.

The unconquerable spirit of the heroes of the Greatest Generation enabled them to rise to the occasion. They understood the importance of what they were fighting for, and in the words of Herb Weatherwax, as mentioned earlier, “We served willingly, we fought willingly, and we died willingly.”

Now, as Superintendent Ashwell mentioned in her remarks, we are sadly losing a number of these heroes. 

Among many others, we lost Ray Emory in August, and over the Thanksgiving holiday, at 106 years young, we lost Ray Chavez.

And just a week ago today, we lost another member of the Greatest Generation with the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush.

As you all saw during the eulogies over the past week, President Bush embodied the unconquerable spirit of his generation, and as a Navy Pilot and World War Two Veteran, he shared a special bond with Pearl Harbor survivors.

He understood the significance of these men and women’s sacrifice, and spoke, here at Pearl Harbor, at the 50th commemoration, saying:
 
“The friends I lost — that all of us lost — upheld a great and noble cause. Because of their sacrifice, the world now lives in greater freedom and peace than ever before.”

We cannot forget the sacrifices made by these brave men and women... the Herb Weatherwax’s....the Ray Chavez’s....or the George H.W. Bush’s.... for to forget them is to dishonor the actions taken to defend our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That is why ceremonies like today’s, and organizations like the National Park Service, are so important....to educate and inspire future generations to work toward a better future.

And since World War Two the United States has continued to play an active role in ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

“Free”, both in terms of security –free from coercion by other nations – and in terms of values and political systems.

An “Open” in the belief that all nations should enjoy unfettered access to the seas and airways upon which our nations and economies depend on. 

This concept is not necessarily new – in many ways it is similar to the international rules-based order born from the post-World War Two era. 

But we must remind ourselves.

Americans fought and bled for these lands, not to conquer them, but to liberate them.

Then, together with allies and partners, we helped rebuild Japan, pushed back aggression in South Korea, and we advanced the security architecture of the post-war era in a way that has led to the region’s collective prosperity.

The United States continues to work alongside our allies and partners towards this shared vision.

But challenges remain.

There are nations and forces in the region today opposed to the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

I promise you the United States will continue to work alongside our allies and partners towards that vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

We will remain opposed to those who desire to lead a region that is closed and authoritarian.

We cannot fail…we will not fail.

May God bless our Pearl Harbor survivors, our World War II veterans and the ‘Greatest Generation.’

May God bless those who follow in their wake – the men and women of our armed forces, every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen – past, present, future – who stepped forward to defend our nation.

May God bless the beautiful state of Hawaii...and may God bless the United States of America, which will forever be, the land of the free and home of the brave.

Thank you.

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