Seventy-seven years ago, in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces surprised and killed 2,403 Americans and wounded more than 1,100. In a speech to the U.S. Congress the next day, President Franklin Roosevelt referred to December 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.” That prediction remains true on this observance of Pearl Harbor Day, 2018.
In December 1941, the people of Alabama, and indeed of most of the then-48 states, did not know where Pearl Harbor was. They learned very quickly and have never forgotten.
The 1941 Congress quickly passed a formal declaration of war, and America entered World War II. The attack on Pearl Harbor swept away the feeling of security of many Americans that we were immune from attack due to our separation from the old world by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Suddenly, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii did not seem so distant from Alabama.
The Pearl Harbor attack ignited American determination to disable the Japanese war machine. Americans were filled with patriotism, and individuals sought to aid in victory. Many enlisted in the military and fought for their country.
My own father, Bloise Zeigler, was already working in a defense-support job at Huntsville Arsenal (now Redstone Arsenal). Two days after Pearl Harbor, Dad went down and enlisted. The next day, management pulled him into the Huntsville office and told him they had gotten his enlistment canceled because he was needed in the defense effort right where he was, in a vital defense job. He served his country right here in Alabama.
For other Americans, their role in the war effort consisted of rationing their use of items such as gasoline, sugar, butter, and canned goods. A war was to be won, and Americans were willing to do their parts to win it.
As we remember those who lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attack, let us be mindful of the privilege of living in America. After World War II, America became a world superpower. Today America is blessed with abundant wealth and resources, as well as global influence. Most of all, America is blessed with citizens who face adversity with resilience and determination.
Jim Zeigler is the State Auditor of Alabama. He was previously an investigative reporter.