The Normandy American Cemetery may be the most familiar of all the American cemeteries and memorials commemorating American fallen in World War II, and it is an incredibly moving experience to walk through the innumerable rows of crosses and Stars of David and on the rust-colored sand of the nearby beaches. But a half a world away, tomorrow at the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, we’ll remember how the war started.
I have had the good fortune to visit the Memorial and have spoken with others who have visited as well. All attest to the heart gripping experience. Whether it is boarding one of the small boats that ferry visitors to the memorial anchored in the waters over what remains of the ship and the 1,100 men who perished with her, or stepping silently through the stark white edifice, reading the names of the fallen on the walls, or looking out over the water and watching as drops of oil from the ship’s hold make their way to the surface as they have for eighty years.
A few of the survivors of the attack that brought America into the war, all men in their late nineties, will visit on the eightieth anniversary of what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared a day that will live in infamy. It will likely be their last chance to participate and to tell their stories. I hope that we are not too busy with our lives to take the time to listen.
As part of the Stories Behind the Stars (storiesbehindthestars.org) all volunteer effort to profile the American fallen of World War II, I have contributed the stories of 11 Americans—men who would otherwise be known only by their name and dates of birth and death. They include:
Hubert Charles Titus Aaron, fireman first class, from Arizona, 22
Joseph John Borowitz, seaman first class, from California, 22
Don Jasper Boydstun, seaman second class, from Texas, 19
Harvey Linfille Havens, seaman first class, from Texas, 27
Walter Benjamin Manning, seaman first class, from Georgia, 23
Lewis Pike, seaman first class, from Georgia, 22
Robert Gary Thompson, seaman first class, from Georgia, 29
Broadus Franklin West, seaman first class, from South Carolina, 26
Vernon Russell White, seaman first class, from South Carolina, 22
Jack Herman Williams, petty officer third class and radio man, from South Carolina, 22
Michael Zwarun, Jr, seaman first class, from New Jersey, 22
Most lived and died in near anonymity at terribly young ages. Most held low level ratings, and operated far below deck. They might have been killed outright or struggled to extinguish the raging fires despite their own injuries. Their last minutes are unknown. But at least today, where possible, a photo, a brief account of where they were born, to whom, how many brothers and sisters they may have had, their line of work, their education level, and the details of when and where they joined the navy are preserved for the future.
Join me on December 7 in raising a glass, saying a prayer, or simply whispering a thank you to all who died in service to their country on eighty years ago.
(Please visit storiesbehindthestars.org on the web or Facebook to learn more about the project to preserve the memories of all 400,000 fallen Americans of World War II.)