On a beautiful summer day a few years ago, I visited Pearl Harbor and boarded the USS Missouri for a history lesson at one of our nation’s richest historic sites. Not a big fan of crowds, I resigned myself to suffer through the herd of camera-clad tourists to check my vacation “to do” box. I was not, however, prepared for the moving account of the actions taken by sailors on that ship during World War II.
On the afternoon of April 11, 1945, the USS Missouri and its men were in the thick of the Battle of Okinawa. A 19-year-old Japanese kamikaze pilot crashed his Zero fighter into the starboard side, seeking to do as much damage as possible to the huge ship and the 2,500 sailors on board.
The ship sustained only minor damage, a dent that remains to this day, and there weren’t any serious injuries. But the Japanese pilot was killed instantly.
That night, as the pilot’s body remained on board, the sailors hastily gathered scrap material and sewed together a Japanese flag to give the pilot an honorable burial at sea. The next morning, sailors paused briefly to pay respect to their enemy. They stood at attention and saluted as the flag was draped over the pilot’s body. A Marine guard fired a traditional three-volley salute, a bugler played taps and the ship’s chaplain said a few words.
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Kamikaze pilots were responsible for sinking 34 U.S. ships and damaging hundreds of others during the war.
At Okinawa they inflicted the greatest losses ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in a single battle, killing almost 5,000 men. Yet, these men on the USS Missouri displayed humbling grace and unwavering character.
Our nation was founded based on the belief that all are created equal with certain unalienable rights, bestowed by a creator, not by a government. The sailors of the USS Missouri consecrated that belief – just one example of how the men and women of our military represent the greatest our nation has to offer.
On the heels of one of the most divisive elections in memory, as a nation we emerge weary, like extras unwittingly cast in a tawdry reality show and unable to escape. For the last year, the campaign exposed the worst of human nature and left us hungry for inspiration.
Veterans Day comes at the exact time when we need the reminder that much of our nation’s history is marked by fine men and women who have selflessly volunteered to go into harm’s way to protect our people and the oppressed around the world. So many have set their comfort and safety aside for the good of others.
On Veterans Day, our kids get the day off from school and we get plenty of sales. But, let’s also make it a point to thank a veteran for his or her service. It’s that service and sacrifice that has resulted in the success of the greatest experiment in history, the United States of America.
Ashley Snee Giovannettone, a former spokeswoman for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a consultant in Sacramento. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.