On the morning of December 7th as first light scattered across the picturesque beaches of Honolulu Hawaii, my cousin, Raymond Richar was on watch at his targeting station in gun turret number one aboard the USS Arizona. The Arizona, commissioned in 1916, was the pride of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The low flying Japanese Zeros flew in nearly undetected that morning catching our fleet napping in snug confines of Pearl Harbor. In mere minutes the Japanese attack had landed a blow that would take 1,177 lives and launch America into a world war. The bomb dropped on the USS Arizona’s forward turret was a direct hit and left it defenseless and sinking.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…with the unbounded determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”
The grim yet inspiring words of President Roosevelt rallied a shattered America. Able-bodied young men and women across the country rushed to enlist hoping they would have the opportunity to defend our precious freedoms, many came from right here on our Bass islands.
I never knew my cousin Raymond, but Dec 7th has always been a day of keen importance, honor and remembrance for me and my family. This month marks the auspicious 70th anniversary of America’s entry into World War II, first with Japan on December 8th and then with Nazi Germany and Italy on December 12th. As we reflect back on those men and women who served their nation under such difficult circumstances, their sense of duty, honor and service should be touchstones for our generation.
“This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”–Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation” he comments on this galvanizing moment, “Millions of men and women were involved in this tumultuous journey through adversity and achievement, despair and triumph. Certainly … this generation did have a “rendezvous with destiny” that went well beyond the outsized expectations of President Roosevelt when he first issued that call to duty in 1936.”
Growing up in a suburb outside Columbus, I worked during the summer cutting the lawns of my neighbors. It was a great job for a kid, but often a lesson in learning as well. One of my customers was a fellow named Oscar P Snyder, that’s Major General Oscar P Snyder, Retired! General Snyder was my toughest critic, he made certain that I cut, raked and bagged his grass, pulled the weeds, and neatly trimmed the tall edge grass not gotten by the mower with his rusty hand clippers (there were no gas powered weed-whackers then). My hand still hurts thinking about that rusty clipper.
A decorated soldier and a dentist, General Snyder rose to Assistant Surgeon General of the Army. Often after I was done with his lawn he would sit with me, as we sipped on a cold glass of lemonade, and tell me stories of his time in Europe and the Pacific with the likes of Patton, Eisenhower and MacArthur. He was THE dentist for the high command. I can only imagine the stories he couldn’t tell me as he peered into the depths of Eisenhower or Patton’s cavity prone teeth drill in hand!
Although he was a “tough customer”, General Snyder instilled in me the importance of a job well done. I learned first hand from him the lesson of duty, honor, and pride in my work. So often we live among people like General Snyder and yet may be unaware of their past service and life’s story. But interestingly, when we get to know them, these stalwart members of our community make a lasting impression on us.
Sadly, these humble, duty driven men and women who sacrificed so much for us are disappearing as I write. Let’s take time now to honor the sacrifices of those few remaining veterans among us, especially those here right here in Put-in-Bay. The list (to the best of my ability) of surviving Bass Islands WWII vets that served with distinction includes Bob Engle, Louis Heineman, Bill Massie, Don McIlrath, Bob Ramsbottom, Larry Ripich, Bob Schmidt, Ray Stoney, Ray Traverso, and Jack Whelan.
So on this 70th anniversary I want to especially honor these men among us who are the last of their generation. Let’s take time to listen and learn from them the lifelong lessons of service and honor they bring to our community. As Tom Brokaw so poignantly explained “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced”. (A special thanks to Ted Hiles for suggesting this story idea.)