Pearl Harbor remembrances are spanning generations in Liberty County.
But locals feel there is still work to do to make sure the younger generation knows of the sacrifice and understands just how much hung in the balance during that time.
One of those advocates is long-time Hinesville resident, Sgt. Maj. (Retired) Adna Chaffee IV.
“This is 2016. If it’s not on Facebook, if it’s not on the smartphone, if it’s not on the computer, the generation we have now does not know what Pearl Harbor is about. They do not know what Veterans Day means. They just know it’s a holiday. So, that’s why I come,” Chaffee shared after the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Ceremony Dec. 3 at the American Legion, Post 168.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor. The sudden attack on Dec. 7, 1941 left more than 2,000 Americans dead and moved then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare war. World War II ended in 1945.
Chaffee, born in 1939, was not old enough to understand Pearl Harbor at the time. But his father served in the Reserves and was mobilized from his home in New Hampshire right after the attack.
“His Guard unit pulled security on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee’s childhood swirled around talk about World War II and defending American liberties. And the fighting didn’t frighten him.
“I was proud. Two things I wanted to be when I grew up: One was be a cowboy because Roy Rogers was my hero and join the military,” he said. “When we were growing up, our families, our friends, strangers, neighbors all took us and told us what was going on in the world, what Pearl Harbor was about, what World War II was about.”
He worries that the history isn’t being passed down anymore.
“It’s a problem. It’s a problem because the young generation doesn’t know,” Chaffee said.
He added there is no acknowledgement on the average smartphone’s calendar widget.
“It doesn’t say anything, but 7 December 2016 … we could be under Japanese or German control right now, but talk to the young generation, they don’t know anything about it,” Chaffee said.
Bradwell Institute Junior ROTC cadets participated in the Legion’s remembrance event under the direction of Sgt. First Class (Retired) Edward Ford. Ford agreed the younger generation, by and large, has very limited knowledge on the Pearl Harbor attack.
“So many of them (students) don’t know anything. You ask them about Pearl Harbor and they don’t even know what Pearl Harbor is or what you’re talking about. Then you have to explain to them what it is and what happened,” Ford said.
Part of his military history curriculum includes a segment on Pearl Harbor.
“I teach it in such a way that I try to solicit opinions about what they know and what they think about what happened,” Ford explained. “I try to answer questions and clear up misunderstandings they may have about it.”
Residents should have packed the room for the ceremony, according to Chaffee.
He thought the low attendance level proves how much more awareness is needed. It makes him worry for the future.
“What I’m concerned about: the DAV, the American Legion, the VFW, the Vietnam Veterans, all these military organizations, what’s going to happen to them in the next 25 years. They’re probably going to be dissolved,” Chaffee said.
In the 23 years he has been an American Legion member, he doesn’t see younger veterans coming in. He speculates it is because “the emphasis is not there.”
Military service clearly was important to Chaffee, who joined the Army Reserves with a parental signature at 16 years old. He went active duty in 1959, fought in Vietnam, and retired in 1989.
“If I could serve on active duty right now, I’d go,” Chaffee said.
Ford, who also served in combat, said he gets emotional when reflecting on Pearl Harbor.
“Being in the military, you expect surprise attack … but, when I think about those many folks that got killed that had not even a clue of what was about to happen,” Ford said.
Originally from Gainesville, Fla., Ford thinks Liberty County has advantage when it comes to valuing military service and soldiers’ sacrifice.
“I really appreciate the fact that when I retired, I decided to stay around here because I wouldn’t want to become like some of my friends back home … they have become so insensitive about veterans, about what veterans go through because they don’t see it,” he said. “I’m here. I see it all the time.”