BY JIM GARAMONE FOR AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE – WASHINGTON – – Pearl Harbor survivors represent the best of America and serve as role models for the current generation that responded to another deadly surprise attack, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a message issued today to Pearl Harbor veterans.
Tomorrow, Panetta will place a wreath at the Navy Memorial here to remember the more than 3,500 Americans killed or wounded in the Japanese attack 70 years ago.
President Barack Obama signed a proclamation today naming tomorrow National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and urged all Americans to fly their flags at half staff in memory of those killed that day.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized an American public that had been leaning toward isolationism. “Our enemies thought that by this sudden and deliberate raid, they could weaken America,” Panetta said in his message. “Instead, they only strengthened it. That day truly awoke a sleeping giant.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said Dec. 7, 1941 was “a day that will live in infamy” in asking Congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan. On Dec. 11, 1941, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy declared war on the United States. The United States mobilized for the global conflict.
“In the memories of that day, we continue to draw determination and conviction to protect our freedoms, to sacrifice for our fellow citizens, and to serve a purpose larger than self,” Panetta said. “You, the survivors of Pearl Harbor and of the war that followed, embody this conviction, this determination to raise high the torch of freedom and sacrifice.”
The stories and records of the World War II generation are entering legend, and with around 3,000 living Pearl Harbor survivors, this anniversary is poignant.
“You have lived full lives and witnessed years of great prosperity because of the freedom you helped to secure for America and her allies,” the secretary continued. “I know you take great pride, as I do, that your legacy lives on in today’s men and women in uniform, who have borne the burden of a decade of war, and who are truly this nation’s next greatest generation.”
Like the Pearl Harbor survivors, the young men and women of the 9/11 generation stepped forward for military duty after another sudden and terrible attack on American shores. Today’s service members emulate the spirit of the generation that placed the American flag at the Elbe River in Germany, and raised it atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific.
“We treasure you,” Panetta said in his message to Pearl Harbor veterans. “You have brought everlasting credit to your fallen comrades. Your example inspires those in uniform today, strengthens our nation’s moral fiber, and proves that with united resolve our country can surmount any challenge.”
Panetta thanked the veterans — most now in their late ’80s and ’90s — for their sacrifices “and for your endless zeal to see to it that our children and grandchildren can pass along a better life to the next generation.
“This has always been the American dream, a dream we can realize because of the determination of our citizens to defend it,” Panetta said.