We were having an 8 a.m. coffee with family in their home on the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam when the music started.
Ringing through the morning, as happens every day here and on U.S. military bases around the world, was the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
“What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming “
As the song plays, people strolling through the neighborhood freeze in their steps, cars pull to the side of the road, and even children stop playing and stand tall, exactly as they have been taught, to honor our flag and the freedom and sacrifice that it embodies.
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
“O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?”
Although I’ve been deeply moved by this anthem throughout my life, it is particularly poignant here at Pearl Harbor, especially as we approach Dec. 7, the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy.” The words and music seem to carry with them the spirits of those who gave their lives for our freedom in this very place 76 years ago.
“And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there “
I imagine the terror of that awful Sunday in this peaceful neighborhood. Homes like the one I visited were occupied by dads, moms and children, most still in the safety of their beds. While airmen and seamen slept in, relaxed or attended to early morning tasks just after sunrise on what promised to be a beautiful Hawaiian day, the world suddenly changed forever.
Many must have listened intently as they were stirred from their sleep by the roar of bombers overhead, a sound that was alarmingly different from that of normal flight exercises. Others would have stared and pointed at the sky in confusion as it suddenly darkened by hundreds of foreign aircraft. When the whistle of bombs screaming toward the earth began, fear and panic quickly gripped hearts as the ground erupted and the harbor spewed from the deafening, continual explosions.
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
In the end, eight of the Pacific Fleet’s battleships were badly damaged and four, including the Arizona and Oklahoma, sank. Sixteen ships in all, and 367 aircraft were damaged or destroyed. And, so very devastating to our nation and to all who loved them, 2,335 men and women in service were murdered by evil on these hallowed grounds and waters, and another 1,178 were wounded.
By the time World War Two ended in 1945, more than 400,000 American military men and women had been killed. They proudly fought and honored our flag with their very lives so that you and I could live in peace and freedom.
While they endured a hellish nightmare for us, it is beyond shameful that some cannot muster the decency to simply stand in honor of them.
Although our nation asks that we rise when “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays, it is usually only for the first short stanza that our attention and respect are requested.
This week as we honor the shattered lives of Pearl Harbor, please take a few minutes to reflect on the entirety of the song that pays tribute to all those who serve. And join me in praying that every U.S. citizen will treasure all that the banner represents as so eloquently described in the final words from verse four:
“Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
“Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
“Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
“And this be our motto — ‘In God is our trust,’
“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
This column first appeared in The Washington Times