BANGOR, Maine — Shortly before he left Tuesday to deliver the benediction at the city’s annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the Rev. Carl Schreiber bumped into a pupil at his church’s preschool.
“What’s Pearl Harbor?” the 5-year-old asked innocently.
The pastor at East Orrington Congregational Church explained the significance of Dec. 7, 1941 — an attack by Japan that killed 2,400 service members stationed in Hawaii, launched the United States into World War II and “literally changed our country,” he said.
Schreiber relayed that brief exchange during the solemn event held on the pedestrian bridge over the Kenduskeag Stream in downtown Bangor where dozens gathered Tuesday to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the attack. As the generation of World War II veterans shrinks with each passing year, the need to pass on the historic importance of events such as Pearl Harbor to the next generations becomes even greater, Schreiber said.
With the exception of perhaps the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the current generation has no memory of anything as horrific as Pearl Harbor — only stories.
Morgan Pottle, a local representative of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, said her understanding of Pearl Harbor came largely from her grandfather, who was stationed in Hawaii 69 years ago and survived the attack.
City Councilor Gerry Palmer is an enthusiastic student of history but has no memory of Pearl Harbor. In February, he got to visit Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, “a peaceful, idyllic spot where all hell broke loose,” he said. He saw the monument, the memorial and the remains of the USS Arizona. He felt the weight of history.
Palmer also reminded the audience in Bangor on Tuesday that among the 2,400 killed that day was local resident Willard Carleton Orr. A plaque commemorating Orr was unveiled during the Pearl Harbor event last year.
Ray Lupo, representing the state’s Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he was saddened by the news this week that the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association could disband because its numbers have dropped so low. All the more reason to continue educating the current generation and beyond, he said.
As Schreiber pointed out, Pearl Harbor was a day of tremendous tragedy, but also it lifted the country to greatness.
“We need to continue teaching that to our children and their children,” he said.