Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the bombings at Pearl Harbor, and thus the entry of the United States into World War II.
Like most men of his generation, my (paternal) grandfather signed up to serve, joining the United States Navy after the attack. I don't know a whole lot about my grandfather. I never met him in person, only talked to him over the phone when I was still a boy. He died in 1997 when I was 9. In many ways he was not an example of a man that I want to emulate. I am told that he was obese in his later life. He was a diabetic that still refused to eat properly and take care of himself- no doubt this led to his death. He divorced my grandmother (when it was uncommon, in the 50's) and was not a very active part of my father and uncle's lives.
In his younger days however, he was the epitome of what a man should be- resolved, a pillar of strength supporting his country (at the right time) and people, and a dogged survivor. I would venture that scarcely any men of my generation have a quarter of his strength at that time.
A veteran of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in late 1944, my grandfather was stationed on the miniature aircraft carrier, USS St. Lo. Originally called Midway, it was considered bad luck in naval tradition to rename a vessel, and its fate in the battle seemed to prove it, as St. Lo was the first major vessel to be sunk by a Japanese Kamikaze attack.
My grandfather, aboard the ship at the time, went down with it. He was stuck at sea for three days in shark-infested waters before he was finally rescued. He was a lucky one, as 143 of his comrades on board died or went missing.
I seriously wonder how many men of my generation could live up to this example- to fight and survive the way that he did. How many of us would perish? I personally don't think I could have a shot in hell. Men like that seem to be dinosaurs in this age.
But it is this knowledge that I have his blood in my veins that is a personal inspiration to make myself better as a man. We of Generations X and Y are the grandchildren of men like this, and it is a true embarrassment that we've become so soft over the years, driven by an abundance of wealth and lack of self-discipline.
However these are learned traits, and it is also in our power to become like our grandfathers- bold and brave warriors in our everyday lives that fight for what we want, and survive the onslaught of the enemies of our society.
We will likely never face the hardships they did, but we can nevertheless become better men. The journey is rewarding in itself.
Just to note so as not to slight him, my maternal grandfather also served, joining the Army Air Corps that
would later become the USAF after the war, but he was stationed in the Aleutians and never
saw action, hence why my paternal grandfather's story is recalled with
more reverence on my part. He faced the greater hardship. World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf Pearl Harbor Day USS St. Lo