Friday, December 9, 2011

Honoring our national treasures

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

As I have written before, my job as a photographer carries many benefits, chief among them, the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.

In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Will E Sanders and I visited local resident Roy Woolridge, a veteran of the United States Navy and a Pearl Harbor survivor, to hear a first-hand account of the “date which will live in infamy.”

I grew up as the son of a World War II veteran. Many of my uncles, as well as a number of family friends, also served during the Second World War. Rarely did anyone discuss their personal experiences, and if they did, it was almost always something of a lighter nature.

The history of World War Two has been my passion for years. I have studied both the European and Pacific Theaters but the war in the Pacific has always been most interesting.

The story of the attack on Pearl Harbor has been well-documented. Unfortunately, we are living in a generation of revisionist history, folks, nay, nut cases, who refuse to believe the facts of history as it occurred. They would rather make up new facts that are more politically correct.

When the opportunity came for Will E and I to actually meet a man who witnessed and participated in one of America’s most tragic moments, I found myself almost shaking with anticipation.

Historians are aware that on the eve of the attack, there was a formal dance at the Pearl Harbor Officer’s Club. Mr. Woolridge was a member of the band who played in the club that fateful evening, the last evening of peace for four long and terrible years.

I hope that most of you read Woolridge’s account in our December 7 edition of the Piqua Daily Call. It is a story that we rarely have the chance to hear first-hand anymore. It won’t be many years until no one will be left who can say, “I was there.”

Will E received a letter, via fax, a couple days ago, from Woolridge’s daughter. She included an account her father’s recollections of December 7, 1941, that he had written on the 62nd anniversary of the attack.

Woolridge was 100 years old as he recalled the attack to us. His hearing is not what it used to be either. I would describe his recollections of his naval service as pretty good for a centurion.

When I took the opportunity to read his account from eight years ago, I was nearly speechless. Not only were the details very sharp and clear, but I was astounded by Woolridge’s writing ability. His account of the attack and it’s aftermath was a wonderful thing to read, nearly poetic in nature, as he describe the views of the peaceful harbor during the dance and the chaos and tragedy, death and destruction, that began less than 12 hours later.

It is events such as these that make me want to cry in despair as I realize that we are losing our World War Two generation far more rapidly with each passing year. Our “greatest generation,” as described by Tom Brokaw is responsible for making America into a world leader.

I recall when I first began hearing that we were losing World War II veterans at a rate of 1000 per day. That was 15 years ago. The figure, I believe is now closer to 1500 per day.

If there was a more defining historical event than World War Two during the 20th century, I don’t know what it was. Time is running out to talk to these living participants of the century’s most influential years.

When we were growing up, they were “just” Dad, or Uncle Charlie. Most are now gone. And, to a man, their take on those war-filled years was, “We were just doing our job.”

Those who are still with us need to be remembered by each and every one of us as what they have become — national treasures.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Chief Roy Woolridge, USN (ret) and the millions of men and women of our Greatest Generation. Your generation was defined by a quote from one of your own …

“There are no great men. There are only great challenges that ordinary men are forced, by circumstances, to meet.” - Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., USN

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