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Some wartime veterans fear lessons of Pearl Harbor are fading

The day after the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt described the attack as "a date that will live in infamy."

This Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the 72nd anniversary of the attack that crippled the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet and claimed the lives of 2,402 Americans, is a day that will be forever remembered as one the most significant dates in American history.

But some wartime veterans in southeast Georgia now question whether the nation's leaders remember the lessons learned.

Lamar Floyd was 16 years old when the attack happened. Floyd of Brunswick said he wanted to join the Army immediately, but had to wait until February 1943, when he turned 18.

"I was mad at the Japanese," he said. "I thought it was a very dastardly attack."

Though the attack on Pearl Harbor motivated him to enlist in the Army, he never faced Japanese soldiers in battle. Instead, Floyd was sent to Europe, where he fought in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.

"I didn't have a choice (on where he was assigned)," he said.

He said the nation's military leaders have studied the attack and understand the importance of a well-prepared and equipped military.

Today's elected officials, however, are another story.

"There's too much politics," Floyd said. "We need to be prepared, but we can't police the world."

Retired Army Col. Barrett King said the attack on Pearl Harbor was largely a result of a failure in intelligence.

Aircraft were parked in rows rather than dispersed because Maj. Gen. Walter Short, who was responsible for the defense of Hawaii at the time of the attack, feared sabotage more than he feared air attack, King said.

"The Navy did not spot the incoming aircraft via distance reconnaissance and the Army did not maintain adequate near shore air patrols or properly arm and man the anti-aircraft batteries," he said.

While the military recognizes and understands the importance of well-trained and equipped armed forces, King doubts most elected officials at the national level do.

"Almost no one in Congress and few members of their families have served," King said. "The military will do as they are told, but they have to be guided by a wise hand. Since many Americans are so removed from service, particularly many rich Americans, it seems we are willing to let our forces act as paid mercenaries. The current Congress and leadership does not appear to want to wage peace."

Retired Navy Capt. David Reilly said the attack taught the nation not to home port all its ships in one port and that it is unwise to not maintain a strong military.

Reilly said elected officials remembered the importance of maintaining a strong military into the 1960s.

"I am not confident that those lessons are present in today's decisions by our elected officials," Reilly said. "The farther away from a major confrontation we get, the less those lessons of the past seem to be remembered."

His concern is the lack of support to maintain a strong military.

"The number of ships being built prior to Dec. 7, 1941, was not consistent with the threat," he said. "In 1941, the U.S. fortunately had the industrial capacity to ramp up and build ships at a wartime pace. I think over time we have forgotten those valuable lessons, and the number of ships we have in service today is the least it has been since about 1918. We have only about 285 ships in service, and that is not enough ships for the Navy to meet its missions without deploying ships for extended periods of time."

An additional concern is there isn't enough industrial capacity to ramp up ship building, if necessary, Reilly said.

"Technology is better, as many say, but it is not a substitute for ships on station," he said. "Even in peacetime, ships are needed. The Navy was founded to ensure our economic prosperity and to ensure we can keep sea lanes open for moving cargo. Moving cargo is as important today as it has been in any time in our history. Over 90 percent of our economy is reliant on the movement of cargo through sea lanes."

Reilly says his concern is ensuring the military is properly funded.

"I am not going to try and lay blame for who is responsible for this lack of insight in keeping our military at the level of strength we need to be to protect our great land," he said.

"I do believe, though, that our Navy and other services will use what the country provides them to do what they take an oath to do, and that is to protect the United States. We need to listen and ensure we give them the tools they need to do that job."

Vietnam veteran and Glynn County Commissioner Mike Browning is another one who has little faith in the policies of elected officials that impact the military.

"I think our political leaders are ignoring the lessons of Pearl Harbor," Browning said. "I believe had we been as vigilant as the Israelis are, the Sept. 11 attacks would not have happened. We were too lax then and are too politically correct now."

Browning says the military must be properly equipped and trained to go into battle, when necessary.

"The bad guys only learn to throw in the towel when they are soundly beaten," he said. "The only war since World War II where the United States made a commitment to fight and win is the first Gulf War, when we removed Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. All our other wars have been too politically correct to allow a fight to win."

Despite the horrific losses during the World War II, retired colonel King believes elected officials nowadays don't pay attention to the lessons learned from the attack. He says the greatest leaders have always known the horrors of war and would enter it sparingly.

"Elected officials just keep letting it happen," King said.

"Whether they are lobbied by the military-industrial complex or they just don't understand other cultures and ways of life, the short, easy answer seems to be peace from the barrel of a gun rather than peace through diplomacy. And clearly our elected officials don't want to make any of their supporters have to pay for war."
 

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