At National World War II Memorial, veterans remember the day it all started
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2017
WASHINGTON — Twenty-one bells rang out Thursday at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, paying tribute to those who were killed at Pearl Harbor 76 years ago when the empire of Japan attacked an unsuspecting nation and kicked off America’s involvement in World War II.
Few of those who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, are still alive; only a handful were able to attend the memorial ceremony at which Washington Redskins president Bruce Allen and other dignitaries extolled their virtues and celebrated their heroism.
Not many of the veterans were able to walk unassisted around the monument’s perimeter as they placed wreaths at the foot of the inscription that reads “Here we mark the price of freedom.” Still, it’s an event that most said they’d attend again.
“I wish sometimes that I could live down here,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Harry Miller about the monument. “I was here for the dedication, and I’ll come back every time that I can.”
Miller served in the Army during the war, and switched to the Air Force later on. On Thursday he was able to catch up with other vets. During and after the official ceremony, they grouped together, chatted and spent more than a little time talking to well-wishers, curious young people and folks just wanting to shake the hand of a bona fide war hero.
That interaction with the public is important to keeping the history of war fresh in people’s minds, said one veteran, and is a large part of why he shows up to these types of events.
“It’s a real pleasure to come out here and join them,” said retired Army Col. Frederick Clinton, who fought across the French and German fronts in 1944-1945.
Like many at the time, Clinton lied about his age to join the military. At 16, he was already working a full-time job repairing aircraft wings for the Navy. When the other young men in town began to join the fight, he knew he had to as well.
“War was going on, I wanted to do my part,” he said. That part extended past his initial enlistment — past World War II and into Korea, where he turned down a battlefield promotion since it hinged on him remaining in the infantry. He had had enough of that life, and became an adjutant general officer instead.
Like Miller, Clinton enjoyed attending the ceremony. It was somber, to be sure, but it was also a way for those being honored to connect with other veterans and to help keep the memory of those who died alive.