For decades, it was not difficult to remember Pearl Harbor and what it meant for the free world. World War II veterans - some survivors of that horrific attack - surrounded us.
On that dark day - Dec. 7, 1941 - Japan attacked and decimated the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. When it was over, 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians were dead, according to the U.S. Navy Museum; another 1,143 military personnel and 35 civilians were wounded. Three battleships — the Arizona, California and West Virginia — and four other crafts were sunk. Many others were heavily damaged.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it was a day that shall live in infamy.
The sheer terror of the attack that launched the United States into World War II makes the Dec. 7 commemoration part of our national fabric. The observance has special emphasis locally since five local servicemen were among the dead at Pearl Harbor: Edward Bator of New York Mills, brothers Richard and Theodore Ingalls of Clinton, George Magee of Utica and Hugh Stephenson of Sauquoit were all aboard the USS Arizona, which still rests at the bottom of the harbor. Other area residents were also present when the bombs hit and were often regular attendees at the annual ceremonies.
But they're all gone now. The last of the known local Pearl Harbor survivors - Stanley Kozien of New York Mills - died in January 2016.
Nationally, it's estimated there are around 2,000 Pearl Harbor veterans left. With their passing, it is more important than ever that we remember Pearl Harbor. Stanley (Stash) Babiarz — a Korean War veteran and staunch activist in local veterans affairs - led a campaign several years ago to erect a monument to the 14 village men stationed at Pearl Harbor. It's located in Veterans Park on Main Street in New York Mills.
The monument is the site of the traditional Pearl Harbor ceremony planned for 2 p.m. today. It's held at 2 p.m. because that's the local time when the attack took place in Hawaii - 8 a.m.
Guest speaker today will be Caren Pepper of Utica, author of "Pearl Harbor Valor: Sylvester Puccio and the USS West Virginia."
Today's ceremony also will be special since an artifact from the USS Arizona will be dedicated. New York Mills Mayor John Bialek and Gary Ford of Yorkville Framing worked together to secure the memorabilia, which Babiarz said is being made available to communities that lost residents in the Dec. 7 attack.
Attend if you're able. Ideally, we'd take our children and grandchildren to this ceremony, but with school in session, that's difficult. However, in the interest of keeping alive the memory of what happened there, we would encourage area schools to pause at 2 p.m. today and offer a moment of silence to remember Pearl Harbor.
Let's make this a living history lesson by reminding students that were it not for the sacrifices of America's men and women - many of them likely to have been their great-grandparents or other family members - life as they know it today would be a whole lot different.
For the sake of those who died at Pearl Harbor 76 years ago, we must never forget.