Pearl Harbor Day reminds us: Remember, honor WWII veterans

A Navy bugler plays taps during a commemoration ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Dec. 7, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss)

A Navy bugler plays "Taps" during a commemoration ceremony World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2010. Pearl Harbor was the target of a Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss)

Marines offer a 21-gun salute during a commemoration ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Dec. 7, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss)

Marines present a 21-gun salute during a commemoration ceremony at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2010. Pearl Harbor was the target of a Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When I visited my grandparents the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001, I remember my late grandmother, Clara Hix Clifford, saying to me, "I never thought I'd see something like this again in my lifetime."

By "again," she was referring to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese -- a worldaltering event that remains true to the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: "a day which will live in infamy."

At the time, it was a shock to the people of the United States. They had managed to steer clear of the war raging in Europe until this unprovoked attack on American soil claimed the lives of more than 2,400 people that bright Sunday morning.

Forget what you've seen in the Hollywood recollections of the important historical events of our time. For a real picture of what happened, go to the words of those who lived through it.

My grandmother remembered going to Muskogee, Okla., to visit her father who'd just had an operation at the local veteran's hospital.

"(My friend and I) ate dinner in Muskogee and then went to a picture show," she recalled. "We came out of the picture show to hear the newsboys hawking newspapers on the street with cries of 'War begins! Hawaii bombarded! Japs bomb Pearl Harbor!'

"So that was the seventh of December," she said. "The next morning, we had an assembly at the high school. We could have heard a pin drop in an auditorium full of high school kids. The old radio gave all of us the president's speech and the declaration of war. I had the coldest feeling as all this happened that not one of us would ever be the same again."

They weren't. Many of the young men who sat in that high school auditorium ended up going to fight the war. From Dec. 8, 1941, to Sept. 1, 1945, Allied troops fought the Axis powers across the face of the earth. The places and events of that conflict -- Bataan, Normandy, the Battle of Midway, Iwo Jima, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- are now indelibly etched into the history books and the minds of many of the older generations.

The generation that fought in World War II is slowly passing from this world. My own grandmother died just four days after the first anniversary of Sept. 11, a little more than 60 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With her death and every death of those who lived through the war, a piece of history is lost.

It is our responsibility as Americans to remember days like Dec. 7 and to honor the sacrifices of those who came before us.