Sunday will be the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “a day,” Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, “that will live in infamy.” Time diminishes such events. Very few people can remember the national outrage. Only a few survivors remain. Even as we venerate “the Greatest Generation,” read their stories, go to see the movies about their lives, the event that served as such a catalyst fades in our collective conscious. I admit that I seldom think about Pearl Harbor on December 7. In the flurry of holiday traditions, who takes the time to remember that in 1941, young men and women sat down to Christmas dinner, already planning to join the armed forces as our nation prepared for war? This year, however, I have been working on digitalizing photos of the servicemen (and women) from Avon, Connecticut who served in World War II.
During World War II, the town published a newsletter for those who served in the armed forces. The newsletter featured the photos of those who had recently enlisted. It had homey news about the town. Some servicemen sent in photos of themselves in front of hospitals, ambulances, in France, in Germany, in Greenland. Gerard Steben, who was in the Navy, sent photos of the USS Sea Snipe, a troop transport, in San Francisco and in Guadalcanal. The photos for the newsletter ended up in the town history room and are currently being digitalized in preparation for an exhibit on World War II. (They are not available to the public.) I edit the scanned photos, make sure the hats and chevrons show, verify the spelling of the names, and check for duplicates. They all look so young. They were so young.
After Pearl Harbor, some young men and women rushed to action. Others would be drafted later in the war. As I work on the town photos, I do not know the history of each person. Some like the Alsop brothers—Joseph, Stewart and John—were the sons of town selectmen, went to private schools and Ivy League colleges. The library’s community room is named after their father. A local park is named after the family. Joseph and Stewart Alsop would become famous journalists. Their brother John would run for governor of Connecticut (but lose). Some were the sons of workers at Ensign Bickford, a local factory. Some last names repeat two, three, four times. Brothers? Cousins? The number of families that sent both sons and daughters astonishes me. Most returned home. A few didn’t. The local VFW post is named after a native son who did not return: Guido T. Consolini who died in the Pacific theater in 1943.
If World War I marks the beginning of modern warfare; World War II is the beginning of our modern foreign policy. This event changed the course of our history, spurring us out of our isolationist policies into a war that already consumed much of the world. Those who remained at home were united in their support for those who went to war. Everyone sacrificed. Everyone was affected. As a result, the United States became a symbol of freedom for the rest of the world.
On Sunday, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made on your behalf—for your freedom. Do not let the collective memory of this day disappear from our hearts and minds.