Thursday, December 7, 2017

Today, of course, reminds us of “a date which will live in infamy.”  The attack on Pearl Harbor led the United States to a global war that remade the world.  I’ve been to Pearl Harbor three times and I’m always amazed at the quiet dignity of the memorial.  I’m sure that my reaction has been similar to countless others who juxtapose the horror of that day seventy-six years ago with the peacefulness now at what is called the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

We will see all sorts of commemorative photographs today, but I wanted to post a different artifact, a World War II-era naval ship ink blotter, which I’ve had in my office for years.  It shows two interesting things.  First, that an ink blotter, a once ubiquitous but now obsolete desk item, would include information to how to differentiate between the various naval ships as well as aircraft.  It also includes the distances from Pearl Harbor, San Francisco and New York to various cities.  No doubt this approximately nine- by four-inch blotter allowed families to identify with their loved ones stationed overseas as well as the overall war effort.

The second notable thing is that this blotter was apparently prepared for multiple institutions, this one the St. Ansgar Citizens State Bank in Iowa.  At the time St. Ansgar, which is in the northern part of the state, had a little more than 900 people.  It shows that no community, no matter how small—or even landlocked, for that matter—was removed from what the U.S. Navy was doing at the time.  By the way, the town is still there, with about 1,150 residents, and the bank, now known as St. Ansgar State Bank, is too.

More than 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded at Pearl Harbor and it was, indeed, “a date which will live in infamy.”  December 7, 1941 was one of those days of unforgettable tragedy.  It was the date in which people living at the time always remembered where they were—just like November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001 for subsequent generations.

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