50 Years After Pearl Harbor
“That Day of Infamy”
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
For young White House speechwriter Mary Kate Grant, the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor offered one of her most challenging assignments since going to work for President George Bush. Read the following excerpts from the speech, and then Grant's comments about writing it.
From the remarks delivered by President Bush to World War II veterans and families at Kilo 8 Pier, Honolulu, Hawaii, on December 7, 1991 — the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day:
I expect if we went around the room, all of us would remember. I remember exactly when I first heard the news about Pearl Harbor. I was 17 years old, walking across the green at school. And my thoughts in those days didn't run to world events, but mainly to simpler things, more mundane things like making the basketball team or entering college. And that walk across the campus marked an end of innocence for me.
When Americans heard the news, they froze in shock. But just as quickly we came together. Like all American kids back then, I was swept up in it. I decided that very day to go into the Navy to become a Navy pilot. And so, on my 18th birthday — June 12, 1942 — I was sworn into the Navy as a Seaman Second Class.
And I was shocked — I was shocked at my first sight of Pearl Harbor several months later — April of '44. We came into port on the carrier San Jacinto. Nearby, the Utah was still on her side, parts of the Arizona still stood silent in the water. Everywhere the skeletons of ships reached out as if to demand remembrance and warn us of our own mortality.
Over 2,000 men died in a matter of minutes on this site, a half century ago. Many more died that same day as Japanese forces assaulted the Philippines and Guam and Wake Island, Midway, Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong. On that day of infamy, Pearl Harbor propelled each of us into a titanic contest for mankind's future. It galvanized the American spirit as never before into a single-minded resolve that could produce only one thing — victory . . .
We triumphed, despite the fact that the American people did not want to be drawn into the conflict — "the unsought war," it's been called. Ironically, isolationists gathered together at what was known in those days as an "America First" rally in Pittsburgh — at precisely the moment the first Americans met early, violent deaths right here at Pearl Harbor. The isolationists failed to see that the seeds of Pearl Harbor were sown back in 1919, when a victorious America decided that in the absence of a threatening enemy abroad, we should turn all of our energies inward. That notion flew escort for the very bombers that attacked our men 50 years ago . . .
In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces, too, of the past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our own history: The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.
The values we hold dear as a nation — equality of opportunity, freedom of religion and speech and assembly, free and vigorous elections — are now revered by many nations. Our greatest victory in World War II took place not on the field of battle, but in nations we once counted as foes. The ideals of democracy and liberty have triumphed in a world once threatened with conquest by tyranny and despotism . . .
Recently, a letter arrived from the son of a Pearl harbor survivor, a Navy man named Bill Leu, who is with us here today. His son writes from his home, now in Tokyo, saying: "A half century ago, my father's thoughts were on surviving the attack and winning the war. He could not have envisioned a future where his son would study and work in Japan. But he recognizes that the world has changed, that America's challenges are different. My father's attitude represents that of the United States: Do your duty, and raise the next generation to do its."
I can understand Bill's feelings. I wondered how I'd feel being with you, the veterans of Pearl Harbor — the survivors — on this very special day. And I wondered if I would feel that intense hatred that all of us felt for the enemy 50 years ago. As I thought back to that day of infamy and the loss of friends, I wondered: What will my reaction be when I go back to Pearl Harbor?
Well, let me tell you how I feel. I have no rancor in my heart toward Germany or Japan — none at all. And I hope, in spite of the loss, that you have none in yours. This is no time for recrimination.
World War II is over. It is history. We won. We crushed totalitarianism — and when that was done, we helped our enemies give birth to democracies. We made our enemies our friends . . .
No, just speaking for one guy, I have no rancor in my heart. I can still see the faces of fallen comrades, and I'll bet you can still see the faces, too . . . But don't you think they're saying 50 years have passed, and we are at peace? Don't you think each one is saying: "I did not die in vain"?
Word From the White House
Mary Kate Grant, the 28-year-old speechwriter who drafted the President's 50th-anniversary Pearl harbor address, spoke to Scholastic Voice about working at the White House:
"When you have a major address like this, you usually get an hour or so to talk with the President one-on-one. But it certainly is a meeting you come to well prepared, so you're not wasting his time, saying, 'I don't know. What do you want?'We bounced different ideas off of him, like how much did he want to get into naming people he knew who had been killed — which he didn't, because he thought it would be too heavy on him. He had a hard time — as anybody would — with this speech. You don't want to push it too far.
"The beginning and end of the speech came straight from him. That's what makes it a uniquely George Bush speech. It's statesmanlike, yet it has some of his personality in it.
"When someone who is young talks about things that happened before they were born, they lose credibility, because they weren't there. George Bush has an awful lot of historical credibility. He'll be the last President who fought in World War II. He was the youngest flyer in the entire Navy. What we tried to have people draw from this speech was that Bush was caught up, as the rest of the country was, in this intense hatred of the enemy, and now, 50 years later, he can say, 'We can't hold grudges against the Japanese,'because he was there. Ronald Reagan could not have given that speech, because he didn't fight in World War II. He wouldn't have that moral authority we established at the beginning of the speech."
Adapted from Scholastic Voice