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As We Commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, We Reflect on Minnesota Heroes

  • Blog Post by: Steve Hunegs
  • December 7, 2011 - 12:41 PM

As diplomatic tensions between the United States and Japan crackled with even greater animosity and a Japanese naval task approached the shores of Oahu, two dozen of Washington, D.C.’s industrial and government mandarins gathered ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of Vice President Henry Wallace.

According to historian Richard Ketchum in “The Borrowed Years,” Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox confided his fears of imminent Pacific hostilities to his dinner companions the night of December 4, 1941.

Nevertheless, this scion of a great multi-generational American family brought to Franklin Roosevelt's cabinet for bi-partisan heft and defense expertise in the face of German and Japanese aggression, sought to reassure the gathering:

“But I want you to know that no matter what happens, the United States Navy is ready!”

For the USS Ward and its 85 St. Paul Naval Reservists, an early morning December 7, 1941, patrol of this First World War era destroyer at Pearl Harbor vindicated the Secretary's words albeit, critically, not for Pearl Harbor at large.

About an hour before the Japanese attack, the Ward engaged an enemy midget submarine.

The Ward's captain, William Outerbridge, signaled:  “Attacked, fired on, depth-bombed, and sank submarine operating in defensive sea area.”

Seventy years later, among Minnesota's many contributions to the war effort was the USS Ward’s firing of the first American shots of the Second World War.

Further confirmation of Knox's foreboding, was the Japanese onslaught across the Pacific synchronized with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the Philippines, another detachment of Minnesotans was on the front lines of this theater of the Pacific.

As described by Dave Kenney in “Minnesota Goes to War: The Home Front in World War II,” Company A, 194th Tank Battalion Minnesota National Guard Unit from Brainerd found itself in the heart of the desperate American defense of the Bataan Peninsula.  Ultimately, the Company suffered terribly from Japanese atrocities during the infamous Bataan death march.

On the home front, the aftermath of December galvanized Minnesotans into action.

Leon Frankel, now 87 years old, recalls his own “readiness” as a 1940 graduate of St. Paul Mechanic Arts High School.  “We learned patriotism from the Boy Scouts and from our teachers.  We learned it from our parents who felt fortunate to have left the 'old country' for the freedom of America.”

Frankel enlisted in the Navy and piloted a TBM torpedo dive bomber.  He flew 25 missions earning a Navy Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross for the 1945 sinking of a Japanese cruiser in one instance and saving his squadron commander's life in the aftermath of the first carrier raid on Tokyo.  Frankel, individually, helped vindicate the heroism of Brainerd's Company A and avenge their suffering.

I recently sat down with Leon to discuss his WWII experiences.  Please see the video below:

To view other footage from the interview, please click here.

Today, December 7 lives beyond infamy, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt.

Ian Cameron of Rochester, MN, is a First Class Midshipman and President of the Naval Academy class of 2012.  A Marshall Scholarship recipient who will study Arabic at Oxford as a Marine Corps Lieutenant, Cameron realizes the “fickle” nature of American collective memory.

Cameron notes the motivation of December 7 for his grandparents' generation just as September 11 inspired many of his classmates at Annapolis.  Equally true in the eyes of Cameron is the fatigue from war which courses through American history.

Isolationism followed World War I.  Conventional wisdom in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations acknowledged the American people might recoil from the casualties resulting from an American invasion of Japan.  Years of sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq by our soldiers leave many calling for attention to domestic issues.

Whether “ready” by serving aboard the USS Ward, fighting in the jungle at Bataan or enlisting after December 7, Cameron believes we must “remember the lessons of Pearl Harbor, and persevere to create peace in our time.”

* * * * *

The pillaging of the British Embassy in Tehran is a version of a diplomatic Kristallnacht for Iran.  According to The Washington Post (“Iran faces increased isolation after attack on British Embassy”, 11/30/11), the “Basij militia smashed windows, set fires and hurled satellite dishes from a roof on the embassy” while the police abstained from intervention.  Britain has responded appropriately.  Said the British Foreign Secretary William Hague: “If any country makes it impossible to operate on their soil, they cannot expect to have a functioning embassy here.”

This utter and complete departure from the norms of the Vienna convention is consistent with the bellicosity of Iranian behavior, ever since:

  • The storming of the American Embassy in November, 1979 and the holding of American hostages for 444 days;
  • The arming of Hezbollah with thousands of missiles;
  • The supporting of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad as his nation murders thousands of its own citizens who are seeking basic freedoms;
  • The threats of Iran’s President to destroy Israel;
  • The hosting of a Holocaust denial conference by the President of Iran;
  • The ongoing, seemingly, inexorable, drive to acquire nuclear weapons capability by Iran as further documented by last month’s report of the International Atomic Energy Agency; and
  • The describing of Iran by the State Department as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Perhaps, finally, it took the second sacking of a western embassy in 32 years to completely arouse European nations to the threat posed by Iran.  Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands recalled their ambassador “for consultations.”

Pending before Congress is the Iran, North Korea and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act in the Senate and the Iran Reduction Act of 2011 in the House which add significant new sanctions to our diplomatic arsenal while there is still time to press Iran to abandon its illicit nuclear program and repressive activities.  Both pieces of legislation would impose tough new sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”), which not only is the major instrument of regime repression in Iran, but also controls Iran’s nuclear program and much of the economy.

The bills would, for the first time, enshrine in law that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  They would escalate the level of sanctions against the regime’s human rights violators and sharply tighten the enforcement of existing sanctions law.  The new legislation also provides an opportunity for Congress to highlight the Iranian threat and make clear that the United States will not lose focus on Tehran’s destabilizing activities.

Co-sponsoring the Senate bill are: Sens. Klobuchar and Franken; co-sponsoring in the House are: Reps. Bachman, Cravaack, Klein and Paulsen.  The bill has unanimously passed the Senate.

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