Eighty years ago, 6-year-old Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson sat down for breakfast Sunday morning at the home on Pan Am Air Force Base in Hawaii when the walls began to shake.
It was December 7, 1941, and the planes were flying at low altitude.
She remembers her father, a civilian, noticing how strange it was for the Army and Navy to go on training flights on a Sunday. They ran outside and saw Japanese torpedo bombers grazing the treetops along Pearl Harbor.
“I could see the pilots. They were so low and so close,” Nicholson, 86, told USA TODAY. “I didn’t know at the time that these were torpedo planes.”
Soon the walls of Nicholson’s family’s kitchen would have bullets in them. There would be shrapnel in his front yard.
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She still carries a bullet that was lodged in the wall phone as a memento.
“You have to know your story,” she said.
Tuesday marks eight decades since the shocking attack on Pearl Harbor. The date that changed the course of a nation will be marked by around 35 military survivors who plan to come together at several events.
When hundreds of Japanese planes bombed American servicemen and civilians on American soil on December 7, 1941 – killing more than 2,400 people – America was an “isolated, calm, withdrawn” nation, said Craig Nelson, author of the 2016 book “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness.”
The events of that day, dubbed “a date that will live in infamy” by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, kicked off the United States’ involvement in World War II, marking the beginning of decades. of growing global influence from the United States.
The date will be observed at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii with several events, including a ceremony for the 429 USS Oklahoma crew members killed in the attack.
Each year, the National Memorial marks Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day by commemorating how “December 7 was a catalyst that led to a changed world.” This year, the memorial focuses on the “long and difficult road to peace” and underlines “the importance of peace which has brought about reconciliation,” according to its website.
This week’s ceremonies will be the first in-person events to commemorate Pearl Harbor since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Park Service said it was trying to minimize the potential exposure of veterans to the coronavirus. This year, wearing a mask is compulsory in all areas regardless of vaccination status, including when social distance is maintained.
“This year won’t be as big as the years before,” Emily Pruett, National Park Service program specialist, told USA TODAY.
Even with annual memorials, the collective understanding of Pearl Harbor is crumbling, Nelson said. In 2021, most Americans probably don’t realize how much the attack has caused a change in culture and society for the individual American, Nelson said.
“If you lived before Pearl Harbor, you would feel more comfortable going back to the days of the Revolutionary War than going back to the present day,” Nelson said.
The attack on Pearl Harbor prompted Americans to “come together” to fight fascism, Nelson said. Later, during the Cold War, the country waged a worldwide struggle against communism. More recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have further expanded the global reach of the US military.
But Nelson and Nicholson have said the collective memory of the Pearl Harbor Nation and the impact of World War II is fading.
“A deceased soldier represents a mother, father and brother at home,” Nicholson said. “I want people to remember what is going on with those who are left.”
She said people were stunned by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 – the same way Americans were shocked and overwhelmed by the 9/11 attacks almost 60 years later.
But the aftermath of Pearl Harbor is what Nicholson remembers most: hiding in the Waipahu Sugar Plantation, martial law in Hawaii and his family unable to return to their home on the Waipi’o Peninsula due to the risk. of unexploded bombs.
In three decades of working to catalog the stories of Pearl Harbor, Nicholson said she wanted people to reconsider the lives of all those affected by war, including women, children and civilians whose stories she told are more likely to be forgotten.
“I want people to know that war affects everyone,” Nicholson said.