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WWII veterans remember how Pearl Harbor changed the world

Posted at 4:51 PM, Dec 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 19:05:21-05

TULSA, Okla. — It was a calm, clear Sunday morning in Pearl Harbor, and an ordinary Sunday afternoon in Eastern Oklahoma. James Carl was "dancing with his gal" in Quapaw, John Cockrum was at a movie in Claremore. Little did they know their lives would forever change with one radio broadcast.

Before December 7, 1941, many Oklahomans didn't know where Pearl Harbor was. As the news came in about an attack that would kill more than 2,300 U.S. servicemembers, people began to wonder even more why Japan would attack it.

"The feeling was, 'well, where's Japan?' and the feeling was, 'that's a little country way over there 10,000 miles away, this won't amount to anything'," WWII veteran Frank Riesinger said.

About Japan's mentality, Riesinger said: "They thought that after Pearl Harbor, we would just stay out of it and let them go on with their conquest. But they found out differently, didn't they?"

The next day, President Roosevelt would deliver a speech that would become closely intertwined with the history of the nation.

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941," the president's voice crackled over millions of radios, "a date which will live in infamy..."

As the week unfolded, Americans found out on the radio, in the newspaper, and the news reel in movie theaters that our country was at war. First, it was with Japan, and then four days later, with Germany and Italy.

America was taking the fight to them. And young men across the country were answering the call when their country needed them.

"You see the sinking of those ships at Pearl Harbor, and the men we lost, it was quite graphic," said John Cockrum. He joined the U.S. Navy on a Friday, after graduating high school on a Tuesday. "It's just one of those things you have to do, it's not a nice thing. War is not good. And unfortunately we had to fight."

The nation banded together, as it plunged into a conflict that would claim the lives of 405 thousand Americans. When World War II began, people around the country had no way of knowing just what would unfold over the next 44 months.

"We were all in a state of shock," said James Carl, who joined the Army Air Forces 20 days after the attack, at just 17 years old. "I thought at the time, 'this is going to get real bad.' Bad for our country, bad for everything. And I wanted to enlist right then."

So he did, like so many others. Millions would end up serving their country in some way, one in 10 Americans joining the armed forces.

"I guess you can call me a patriot, because I am," Carl said. "And I felt like that was what I have to do."

It was a war that still haunts many; because of the things they saw, and the ones who didn't make it back home.

"I think about all these buddies of mine I lost. God, we were brothers, we were blood brothers. We were really truly blood brothers," Carl said. "And when we lost one, you don't get over it."

When the war finally ended, Americans rejoiced, united as ever. The celebration began in Pearl Harbor, where the lights remained dark ever since the attack.

"All the lights came on in the harbor, sirens started blowing, all kinds of noises, and everyone was in a joyous mood," Cockrum recalls. "Guys were jumping over the side into the harbor - it was a crazy time."

Today, those who lived through the combat, still alive to pass on the torch, urge America to stand ready.

"Our purpose is to keep America alert. Lest we forget - let's not forget," said Pearl Harbor survivor Arles Cole.

As December 7 arrives yet again, President Roosevelt's words still ring true as ever. With every passing year, we grow more fortunate to look back on this day alongside the ones who lived it, and the ones who did something about it.

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