For many veterans of World War II, the events of Pearl Harbor and the service members who proved their greatness in the midst of that tragedy compelled them to achieve their own greatness in service to the nation. Hank Clinton, on hand at Saturday’s ceremony marking Dec. 7, 1941, is one such veteran.
Clinton, who also served in Korea and Vietnam, was a young man studying history and geography in school when the Japanese planned and launched a surprise attack on the American base in Hawaii that year. “We were talking about Japan, and I told the teacher I’d be in Japan,” Clinton recalled. “I was 13 at the time.”
The veteran said though the U.S. should never have been caught off guard at Pearl Harbor, he believes Japan’s decision not to attack the mainland allowed American forces to prepare for future confrontation.
Clinton’s wishful declaration turned prophetic when he enlisted four years later in the Navy. Clinton served in the Pacific and was on a ship bound for Japan when the U.S. attacked Hiroshima. “We had picked up a Marine division in New Guinea and were in the Philippines when they dropped the bomb,” he said.
The ship’s commander told his men they would be entering Japan as an occupation force, and he ordered food brought up to the decks to celebrate the U.S. victory. Cannons and tracers were fired overhead, Clinton said. “It was like the Fourth of July.”
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 46 hosted the memorial event at Hinesville’s American Legion post for area veterans. Also attending were Mayor Jim Thomas, Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Milton and members of the Bradwell Institute JROTC. Paul Spence of Vietnam Veterans of America gave the opening remarks.
The ceremony included a roll call for WWII veterans, and members of the ROTC posted and retired the colors. Newspapers, a video and recording from Pearl Harbor were on display at the post, as well as a moving memorial of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, courtesy of Pete Works from Mission Essential.
Col. Milton was the guest speaker and reminded the audience of the importance of learning from the past. “Prior to Pearl Harbor Day, we were a nation largely oblivious” to the war in Europe, Milton said. “After World War I, we never thought there would be another great war.”
Marking the event is important because of how the nation responded, he said. “Our nation rose to the call. We stood up as a nation and moved in one direction.”
The unified effort of Americans to support the war was again seen when another tragic event touched the entire country — Sept. 11, 2001. “Much like Pearl Harbor, we were surprised by an unknown enemy we didn’t even know we had,” Milton said. “But we learned from the greatest generation how to respond to unprovoked attacks.”
To illustrate, he quoted the nation’s first commander-in-chief, George Washington: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
To the veterans, Milton expressed his gratitude. “We thank you for your service and for the example you set for us.”