Harry B. Harris,
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
74th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration,
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
December 7, 2015
Let me begin by saying that I bring you best wishes from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. SECNAV sends his regrets that he could not attend today’s ceremony -- and that he couldn’t find someone better to fill in for him.
So just close your eyes and visualize ... pretend I’m taller, grayer, with the steely blue eyes of a surface warrior, and the eloquence of a seasoned diplomat and we’ll be okay -- even though I’ll probably say half as many words in twice the time due to my Tennessee-drawl.
As I look around, I realize there are so many distinguished guests here today that I could spend this entire speech trying to acknowledge everyone. Since I can’t do that, let me take just a moment to recognize a few honored attendees:
State and city leaders … Governors Ige and Ducey …
Mayor Caldwell, Mayor Mori and all of our guests from abroad;
Defense Minister Parrikar, Ambassador Singh and the visiting delegation from India;
Esteemed members of our consular and diplomatic corps;
Fellow Flag and General Officers;
Fox Sports executives Eric Shanks and Larry Jones -- thank you for highlighting our veterans, past and present, by telling such great stories during this weekend's sports broadcasts;
Leaders of the National Park Service;
And most of all, a special welcome to the “Greatest Generation,” our World War Ⅱ veterans and Pearl Harbor survivors, to whom we owe an immeasurable debt for their heroic efforts and why we are all here today.
December 7th is always a day of special meaning for me personally -- 74 years ago, my dad was an enlisted Sailor on the aircraft carrier USS LEXINGTON, which was usually docked at Ford Island just behind me. Just a few days before Pearl Harbor was attacked – on a quiet Sunday morning not unlike this morning – our aircraft carriers had pulled out of Pearl Harbor. As you can imagine, growing up, I listened to my dad’s stories of duty, honor, and courage.
My dad and so many from the Greatest Generation are no longer with us, but I still hear their stories. These stories taught me the importance of defending freedom and serving our nation -- and this inspired me down a path to do just that.
There were a lot of heroes that day, and unimaginable destruction. Look across the harbor at USS MISSOURI and consider the scale of many ships like that berthed at Ford Island. As we gaze out at the ARIZONA Memorial, and just beyond it, the OKLAHOMA Memorial, and beyond that the UTAH Memorial, we recall the heavy price paid 74 years ago … 21 vessels, including 8 of our first-line battleships sunk or damaged, 170 planes destroyed, more than 2,400 dead and 1,200 wounded -- Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and civilians.
A day of infamy – and a day of warning – that must forever remain burned into the American consciousness.
That’s why we evoke the motto of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association:
“Remember Pearl Harbor … keep America alert … eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Sage advice from those who speak first-hand of the events of December 7th and the need for America to never be caught flat-footed again.
And even though these events happened a long time ago, threats to our very way of life remain constant. Today, the world is still a dangerous place. It demands that we be ready 24-7, to meet any threat to our American citizens, our allies and partners, and our national interests.
George Washington once said “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” We in Pacific Command believe that, and we live those words every day.
That’s why the 360,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and DoD civilians that comprise the Pacific Command remain vigilant and ready to fight tonight if we’re called upon. For 74 years, we’ve remembered Pearl Harbor. We’ve remained vigilant. And today’s armed forces are ready to answer the alarm bell.
But to be sure, we’re working to keep the alarm from sounding in the first place by advancing America’s current strategic rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, an initiative designed to maintain stability, prosperity and peace throughout the region.
Our strategic rebalance is centered on enhancing our already strong alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand. And it reminds us of the decades-long friendship that has connected Japan and the United States, our defense forces, and our people. We began to walk the pathway to reconciliation 70 years ago onboard USS MISSOURI. The Pacific Ocean – once a tableau of brutal warfare – is now a stable region where former enemies are close allies.
Today, we work side-by-side with our allies, mutually committed to security throughout the region that drives the global economy. We enjoy the fruits of these prosperous times because of the seeds sown by the men and women who sacrificed so much – right here – 74 years ago.
Today, the United States and our allies are working with new partners like India and many other nations to maintain peace and security in the region.
This is all possible because of the world-changing actions of those who stood their ground in Hawaii on that fateful 1941 morning and those who subsequently carried that battle flag to far off lands in defense of liberty.
So as we look at the majestic ARIZONA Memorial behind us, we remember that this is the final resting place of more than 1,100 Sailors and Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice.
They are the guardian angels of our nation, and here, they will never be forgotten.
Today and for every tomorrow, we owe a debt to the men and women who gave their full measure of devotion on December 7th and throughout World War II – time will not dim the glory of their deeds and the legacy they left behind.
From the ashes of war, a rules-based system of international laws was built that has kept the peace in the Indo-Asia-Pacific for decades. Today, as I look around this audience, it reminds me that the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, India, and so many other like-minded nations are working together in this rules-based security architecture to maintain peace through strength.
As we commemorate this day, let us re-dedicate ourselves to delivering to future generations the same gift of security and peace that was purchased for us by those who sacrificed so much in defense of our freedom seven decades ago.
May God bless those Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans who serve as living tributes to all the things that make our nation great.
And may God bless those who followed in their wake – the men and women of our joint armed forces, every one of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen – past and present – who stepped forward to defend our nation.
May God bless the families of those who serve here in this 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.