Remember Dec. 7, 1941

Bands had begun saluting the flag as Old Glory was raised. Men were rolling out of bunks, ready for a new day. It was Sunday, so some men of the cloth were polishing sermons to be delivered later that day.

It was a Sunday morning just like most others in the tropical paradise that was the Hawaiian Islands.

Then the explosions began and airplanes bearing bright red disks on their wings began screaming down on strafing runs.

Within seconds, what had been the old United States of America was gone forever. A new nation began rising even as an ancient one attempted to destroy us.

It was Dec. 7. 1941 — 75 years ago — as a fleet of Japanese warplanes attacked the U.S. base in Pearl Harbor.

Our nation had been dragged into a world war only slightly more than a generation before. We wanted no more to do with the seemingly endless, vicious disputes that involved so many other countries.

Americans just wanted to be left alone in peace.

It was not to be.

Thoughtful people knew in their minds it was virtually inevitable that the United States would be pulled into World War II. Our leaders began making preparations for the conflict.

Sooner than even the pessimists had expected, however, the Japanese launched their sneak attack.

It devastated our Pacific fleet. But it also awakened the sleeping giant a Japanese admiral feared.

The men and women who answered our country’s call after Dec. 7. 1941 have been referred to as the Greatest Generation. With lightning speed, they met the threat with a force never seen before or since. They made it inevitable that Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy would fall. It was never a question of whether, but only one of when.

Our annual observance of Pearl Harbor Day has varied purposes. One is to remind us that letting our guard down can have disastrous consequences. That point, nearly forgotten by the children and grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, was reinforced on Sept. 11, 2001.

But there is another purpose. This year, it had some urgency about it.

It is to honor the men and women of the Greatest Generation, both those who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and those who fought on to victory.

Of the thousands of men and women who endured the hell that was the attack on Pearl Harbor, just a few hundred remain with us today. About 300 of them are gathered in Hawaii to observe the 75th anniversary of the battle.

The next big anniversary of the attack, the 100th, will have to be observed without them.

Dec. 7 is one of the last significant opportunities we will have to honor them — all of them, men and women in both the fighting forces and on the home front — for what they did.

Let us do that, then. Let us, as a nation, deliver the salute they so richly earned. And let us add to that two heartfelt words: Thank you.