The U.S.S. Arizona Survivor and 9/11
The U.S.S. Arizona Survivor and 9/11
I was having lunch at my favorite bagel place the other day and a tall, elderly man sat down at the table next to me. He was wearing a baseball cap that identified him as a U.S.S. Arizona survivor. This was a man who survived the hell of the Pearl Harbor attack and the catastrophic destruction of his ship. Since then I have contemplated how significant that day was for his generation and 9/11 is for ours.
For those who don’t know about the events that took place in Hawaii almost 70 years ago here’s a brief recap. Pear Harbor on the island of Oahu was the headquarters of the United States Pacific Fleet. At 7:44 AM on December 7, 1941 as the flag parties were preparing for reveille and the raising of the flag, planes of the Japanese naval air force executed a near-perfect attack on the fleet. They were attacked by 353 fighters, torpedo bombers and dive bombers in two waves. They had come from six aircraft carriers. The United States suffered devastating losses. Our losses were 2,402 killed and 1,247 wounded. Seven ships were sunk and eleven more were damaged; 188 planes were destroyed and an additional 155 were damaged. It was a complete and near-total victory for the Japanese.
Included among the losses was the U.S.S. Arizona which suffered a number of bomb hits. The one hit that sealed her fate was the one that exploded in the forward ammunition magazine. The cataclysmic explosion literally blew the Arizona out of the water and collapsed it back into it. Of the crew 1,177 of the 1,400 men were killed. Most remain entombed in the sunken battleship to this day. The Arizona remains a commissioned vessel in the United States Navy.
The Congress of the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan the next day. By the end of the war all six Japanese aircraft carriers were to be sunk by the United States Navy.
The war was to end the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki over 3 1/2 years later. The odds of meeting a Pear Harbor Survivor, much a U.S.S. Arizona survivor are extremely slim. I had that distinct honor last week. As the son of a WW II naval veteran I already knew about Pearl Harbor but sometimes I wonder if the next generation underrstands or cares. My father remembered everything that happened that momentous day until the day that he died.
On a clear September morning our world changed yet again. At 8:46 AM American Airlines Flight 11 piloted by five al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 AM United Airlines Flight 175 was crashed in the South Tower by 5 more al-Qaeda terrorists. Five more hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Finally, United Airlines Flight 93, destined for either the U.S. Capitol or the White House, crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after a struggle between the four terrorists and the passengers. Who will ever forget the last words that Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa, heard over his cell phone, “Let’s Roll”.
Within two hours of the aerial assault both towers collapsed. Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day: 2,753 at the World Trade Center, including 411 first responders, and 184 more at the Pentagon. No one in the airliners survived, including the hijackers. Once more the United States found itself in a war that was not of its own choosing. Nine days later President George W. Bush told the world, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
Less than a month after the attack, on October 7th, the armed forces of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, and the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance), launched Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban. It was determined that the extremist Taliban had sheltered and assisted al-Qaeda in the September 11th attacks. In a matter of weeks the Afghan United Front assisted by Special Operation and air forces from the United States and the United Kingdom ousted the Taliban from most of the country.
Today, as we build up the Afghan democracy and its army, we remain in that country. Afghanistan is a valuable ally in the War on Terror. We use it as a base for our drone attacks against the terrorist networks in the neighboring Pakistan’s tribal regions. Over the ten years since the 9/11 attacks the United States and its allies methodically have destroyed many of the terrorist networks around the world. We have systematically killed or captured thousands of suspected terrorists.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered the primary planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on March 1, 2003, by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. He was turned over to the United States and he remains in custody in Guantánamo Bay awaiting trial.
On May 2, 2011 Osama Bin Laden, the founder and leader of al Qaeda was killed in a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives. The American people have a long memory when we’re wronged. The rest of our enemies need to remember that. A visitor to the Shanksville memorial said, ““Everyone who didn’t forget, we got him.”