As I select subject matter for my columns each week, I am always aware of the ways in which every topic is connected with so many others, including the history we currently are in the process of making.
I’m thinking today about the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on Dec. 7, 1941. Until that horrific event, the appetite for our getting involved in Europe as Germany continued its rampage was very limited. We were still war weary as we erected monuments in our little towns to the soldiers who had died in World War I, and at times we caught glimpses of veterans with an arm or a leg missing and were reminded of the costs of war.
As the radios announced the attack (no televisions at the time), the nation realized that like it or not, we were involved. We had established a U.S. Navy base there in 1899 after overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy.
Yes, we have seldom shied away from maneuvers to add territory in spite of some current opposition to our telling the truth to our students about the ways in which we landed on the east coast and began a process of grabbing land through war, treaties, or purchases. Can you recall for your children and grandchildren some of the ways in which this expansion occurred?
Back to the attack. My maternal grandmother, Viva Moore Adams, was especially alarmed because her only son, William “Ellis” Adams, was a pilot with the Army Air Corps and was stationed at Pearl. She learned later from authorities that he survived and eventually learned from his personal account that he was sleeping in late that Sunday morning.
On Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress about this “dastardly attack” and vowed, “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.”
Montana Republican and member of the House of Representative, Jeannette Rankin, was the sole person in Congress to vote against war with Japan and explained her position, “As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Did she suffer threats? Yes, and does this sound familiar in today’s world?
Most of us know a bit about the stories of the men and women who after “the day that will live in infamy” went to war and later carried the moniker of “the Greatest Generation.”
Although we had enjoyed a presence in Hawaii for decades, it wasn’t until Aug. 21, 1959, that Hawaii finally became a state, and the America flag was redesigned. Some say the reason for the delay was the fear of the large non-white population in Hawaii. Does this sound familiar as well?
We know that history is never simple, and some of us are old enough to have lived through epochs that are now detailed in high school and college history books. Some are astute and realize we are now living in such a period with political divisiveness, the Corona virus, social media, and civil unrest that will be recorded as critical to an understanding of American history.
Yes, we are living history, and we have a personal responsibility to be informed, to use our cognitive thinking skills, and to stand against those who argue for “alternate facts” if they need them to support their positions.
History, thus, is personal, and I’d like for you to indulge me as I make a few comments about my grandmother’s son, my mother’s brother, and my uncle – William “Ellis” Adams, one of the Pearl Harbor survivors on that day when 2,335 U.S. military personnel died, the majority members of the U.S. Navy with significant numbers on the USS Arizona.
Adams was dispatched to the European Theatre after Pearl Harbor where he piloted B-17s, was then stationed in Occupied Japan, and finally flew bombers in the Korean War. After 20 years in what had become the U.S. Air Force in 1947, Adams retired as a major and became a civil service employee for 20 more years at Robins Air Force Base. With a team of others, he traveled to Wright Patterson Air Force Base to give advice from a pilot’s perspective on the development of the F-15 Eagle. He died in 1991.
On June 11, 2021, a new bridge was named in his honor in his hometown of Cumberland in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Note: Persons desiring to access the military records of close relatives should go to the archives in St. Louis and complete “Instruction and Information Sheet for SFG 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records,” and submit the application. This will not replace personal accounts, but will provide facts, including performance review evaluations that might amuse and surprise you, as well as data on weight, medical issues, schooling, and such.