Once upon a time, back in 1941, when I was 12 years old, I remember so clearly the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We couldn’t see Pearl Harbor until later because they embargoed the pictures from public view.
I was passing a football with my good friend Dick Reed when his father shouted from the Reeds’ front porch, “Bill, tell your dad the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor.”
As I headed for my home across the street, my dad came out the front door. I remember him addressing Jim Reed with a statement. “This means war, you know.”
For two young boys who had just been passing a football, we had no idea what war really meant.
I guess it is true that there are certain moments in history that we all remember exactly what we were doing when we heard the news. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is one, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, now known as 9/11, when America suffered the worst terrorist attack in history on our shores.
As we clearly remember those events, it is possible, at the moment, to know what the event means for the future.
As a young boy, I didn’t know what war meant when I heard my father say the word. Young people, I am sure today, have no idea of what this war is all about. In fact, many older folks don’t know either.
It was eight years ago this past Friday that those hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
That attack, like Pearl Harbor, was a sneak attack, but it was different and more cowardly.
Terrorists killed civilian passengers on the planes and killed nearly 3,000 people who were doing nothing more than working for a living.
Pearl Harbor was a military base. We had been feuding with the Japanese and expected an attack somewhere in the Pacific, but when the bombs fell, it was on battleships and military installations. They didn’t bomb Honolulu to kill civilians.
Maybe because I lived through World War II and remember the sacrifice, I am surprised at the almost passive attitude by so many today.
War protesters say we must get out and bring the troops home. If we pull our troops out, the cancer that is infecting the whole world will not go away. It will grow bigger and more ruthless, and we will have to fight them in America one day.
We must finish the job.
Hitler and Japan
In World War II, we were slow to react to Adolf Hitler. Winston Churchill, who proclaimed Hitler a “mad man” and predicted World War II, was laughed at — criticized — and so 50 million people died needlessly.
Imagine, 50 million people died in World War II — 35,000 killed for every day of the war.
Today, this war is quite different, as the enemy is invisible, but certainly as ruthless as Hitler.
The Japanese were successful at bombing Pearl Harbor because it was a sneak attack, but it did little more than wake a sleeping giant and turn our big country, our mighty country, into a neighborhood where everybody worked for the same purpose.
This war is so different. Even on the home front it seems our troops are being undermined by our lack of unity.
Eight years ago on Sept. 11, I sat and watched television as the second plane hit the tower.
The Twin Towers were an important part of life when I was a stockbroker. Like President George W. Bush, when he heard the news of the attack, I, too, was paralyzed, as were many in America.
When those planes crashed into the buildings, we were trying to evaluate what it meant.
To me, it was a bit more personal, as I had friends on the 109th floor of the South Tower, or so I thought.
For many years, as a broker with Smith Barney, I managed money and had many large accounts that I would occasionally fly by helicopter to Wall Street.
We would fly along the Connecticut “gold coast” so clients could see the mansions on the shores of Stamford and Greenwich.
Then, across upper Manhattan to the Hudson River, the helicopter would fly along the Hudson River’s great piers, and clients could view the skyline of Manhattan.
We would circle the Statue of Liberty, where my guests could look Lady Liberty in the eye. We would fly to the height of the World Trade Center and back to land at the Battery Park Heliport.
A limousine to the World Trade Center and changing elevators three times would get us to the 109th floor. From there, you could look down on the Empire State Building and view all of New York Harbor. They said on a clear day you could see four states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
I always was amused and pleased that clients got such a thrill out of being on top of the World Trade Center. Though many were very wealthy people, a helicopter ride from Eastern Connecticut to Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the towers was a great experience.
The men and women who managed our clients’ money were on the 109th floor, all of them dear friends and associates. On that morning, as I saw the second plane hit, it was the building I knew so well, and in it, I thought, were a dozen or more personal friends.
As fate would have it, they had recently sold their lease and moved to Trade Center Building No. 7.
I learned two days later they were all safe, but those who had taken the lease were all lost.
The terrorists hit the trade center because those were symbols of our independence and financial strength.
I cannot believe how quickly 3,000 deaths have almost been forgotten by some.
America came together for a year or so, but now we seem to be coming apart again, bickering over unimportant matters and losing sight of the fact that we are at war with a savage enemy that has no flag, no uniforms. They only want to see us dead and we cannot, we must not loose sight of the fact that we are as a nation very much at war for survival.
If this a war, and indeed it is, there are only two alternatives: We either win it and annihilate our enemy or we surrender and let them rule the world. There is no halfway with war.
It is regrettable that more than 4,000 men and women having been killed in Iraq, but more than 3,000 were killed in New York City, and that should give us the spine to fight the enemy everywhere.
We will always remember December 7th — those of us who are old enough — and we will remember the day Kennedy was shot.
But in all American history, there is no day more tragic than 9/11.
Eight years ago yesterday, World War III started in New York City.