The 70th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor is Wednesday, Dec. 7, and David Christian wants to see American flags flying wherever he looks.
“How many people in your neighborhood will put a flag out for Pearl Harbor?” he asked more than 250 fellow veterans and guests during a Friday morning breakfast and ceremony at the Blair Mill Inn in Horsham.
Christian, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was the keynote speaker at the event, co-sponsored by state Reps. Tom Murt and Todd Stephens.
The lawmakers honored selected veterans from Philadelphia and Montgomery County, presenting each with a certificate. Murt’s current district includes Philmont Heights and will add Bustleton under a preliminary redistricting plan.
Christian, 63, served in the U.S. Army from 1966-70, rising to the rank of captain. He was critically injured by napalm in January 1969.
During his time in the Army, he earned numerous awards for acts of valor on the battlefield and twice was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. He has long been active in helping returning veterans to find work and make the transition to civilian life.
Today, he is president of a Holmesburg-based defense manufacturing company that builds ground-support equipment for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. He is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012.
Christian was raised in Levittown and is a graduate of the former Woodrow Wilson High School. His mom, Dorothy, was an aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II.
In the early stages of that war, the U.S. adopted a largely isolationist strategy. Americans wanted no part of the war in Europe.
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, that all changed when Japan attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans were killed, and almost 1,300 wounded, during the two-hour bombing. Four battleships were sunk, and 188 aircraft destroyed.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy.” The president went on to tell Congress in his Dec. 8 address that, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
Americans demanded retribution. That day, the United States declared war on Japan.
“Their sneak attack would serve as a rallying cry,” said Murt, a veteran of the Iraq War, who credited the “Greatest Generation” of World War II-era Americans with winning the war.
Christian said the Japanese awoke a “sleeping giant called the United States of America.”
The crowd at last week’s event did not include any Pearl Harbor survivors, but it did feature generations of combat veterans.
“What a great honor to be in the midst of so many heroes,” Christian said.
The day included Christmas and patriotic music, the playing of Taps, prayer, a Pennsylvania National Guard color guard and a video presentation.
The musical selections included Remember Pearl Harbor, which was played by every radio station and sung at social, family and religious gatherings across the country in the aftermath of the attack.
The song’s lyrics are:
History — in every century,
records an act that lives forevermore.
We’ll recall — as in to line we fall,
the thing that happened on Hawaii’s shore.
Let’s remember Pearl Harbor —
As we go to meet the foe —
Let’s remember Pearl Harbor
As we did the Alamo.
We will always remember —
how they died for liberty,
Let’s remember Pearl Harbor
and go on to victory.
The video featured comments from survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.
“Planes were flying low enough that we could see the pilots’ faces,” said Alfred B. Rodriguez.
Dick Girocco said, initially, many stationed at the base didn’t react to what was happening because the planes were the same color as those of the Army Air Corps and the bombs resembled flour sacks. Soon, though, they realized the enemy was striking.
“We knew we were in big trouble,” Girocco said.
“The sky was just black with smoke,” said Herb Weatherwax.
Christian called on the media to get away from coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protesters and turn their attention to a bigger movement.
“Their crowds are not as large as this patriotic crowd here today,” he said.
Christian said the best way to honor those who’ve worn a U.S. military uniform, including those who have been killed or injured, is to serve today’s veterans.
That means cheering them when they are walking through airports and hiring them for jobs with dignity.
In Christian’s opinion, veterans can contribute a lot to the civilian work force. After all, they’ve faced fear, pain and the elements on the battlefield, he said. They’ve operated high-tech submarines, helicopters, airplanes and tanks, and maneuvered through jungles, mountains and deserts.
“We don’t turn our backs on veterans,” he said, “because our veterans didn’t turn their backs on America.” ••
The Union Library Company of Hatborough, 243 S. York Road in Hatboro, hosts a regular War Stories Speaker Series.
Veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are welcome to share their experiences.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org