Delayed Gratitude From A Pearl Harbor Baby

Delayed Gratitude From A Pearl Harbor Baby

Today is my birthday. I’m a Pearl Harbor baby.

Although I was born many years after the Japanese attacks in Hawaii, that is what my father always called me. His Pearl Harbor baby. A bittersweet term of affection from a WWII veteran to his little girl. A term that confused me as a child.

A term that I despised as a teenager.

Living only a few miles from Glenview Naval Air Station, I remember seeing engorged troop planes flying overhead while I waited for the school bus. Planes whose cargo was young men. Whose destination was Vietnam and a war I didn’t believe in.

My generation was about peace and love. We didn’t raise flags, we wore them on the seat of our jeans. The majority of us rejected everything to do with war. Boys I knew tore up and burned their draft cards or made plans to dodge the war by escaping to Canada until it was over.

Acknowledging returning soldiers was also against my generation’s widely held flowerchild principles. And so, given the times, it seemed a cruel joke to be born on Pearl Harbor Day. That day of infamy that brought America into a long and bloody world war. Why did I have to be my father’s living, breathing reminder of that moment in history. Why couldn’t I have been born on an ordinary day in March, like the rest of my family.

Luckily, I eventually grew up. Realized the world did not revolve around me.

After my father died, I found myself searching to gain a more complete understanding of Pearl Harbor. The day that drew my 27-year-old father into the Navy. A day that put his young life on hold and thrust him and thousands like him into ships and planes. A day that put guns in the hands of boys and told them to kill boys like themselves in different uniforms. A day that took my father across the North Atlantic to Iceland where he photographed the desperate and horrific faces of war.

My Father's Presidential Unit CitationWhere he acquired nightmares that lasted a lifetime.

I imagine that when my father returned home he felt a flood of emotions. Emotions he never really shared with me.  Grief, at losing buddies. Relief, that the world was safe again. Fear, that the peace wouldn’t hold and one day he would watch his own son go off to war.

I am glad my father isn’t here to see what the world looks like today, on the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. Glad I don’t have to witness his rage and frustration at the cowardly way terrorists are waging war against innocent people around the world. Happy, that my father and I don’t have to have that conversation.

But I would also like to sit across the dinner table from him one last time. Tell him that I love him. That I am proud of him and the sacrifices he made during WWII. Have him there to help me eat cake and blow out a daunting amount of candles. Call me his Pearl Harbor baby.

After all, today is also my birthday.

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Filed under: life/opinion, Travel, World

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