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NEWS | Dec. 5, 2008

Take a moment for a day of infamy

By Chief Master Sgt. Pat Battenberg 79th Medical Wing command chief

Pearl Harbor, "Remember the Alamo," 9-11. These are words or phrases that evoke memorable feelings for those who lived during these events or know of the great sacrifices of the men and women who lived or died during these times in American history. 

I grew up in a military household and one of the terms I heard discussed was Pearl Harbor. I had no idea what Pearl Harbor meant, but I knew it was important because my Mom and Dad always talked a little bit more seriously and in hushed tones. 

Fast forward twenty years. My wife and I receive orders to Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, which is co-located with the Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor. 

What I didn't realize was the building I was going to work in was old. Very old. In fact, it was the same building the enlisted Army Air Corps members were living in as their barracks on Dec. 7, 1941. This is pretty apparent as you walk up to the building. 

The building has been painted numerous times since the attack and major repairs have been done, but a very wise general officer made a decision sixty-seven years ago that visually impacts each and every member of the Air Force who works in the Headquarters building every day. 

They never repaired the bullet holes and chips from the bombs and bullets that hit the building during the attack. You just can't ignore it -- everywhere you look there are bullet holes and concrete missing from every part of the walls. 

If the outside isn't reminder enough of the attack, then the Courtyard of Heroes really hits home. The courtyard was originally attached to the dining facility in the barracks. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, twenty-one soldiers were killed while eating breakfast. One of the first bombs to hit the barracks landed right in the mess hall and killed them while they ate. Years later, the courtyard was converted to a memorial for those killed and to those who served during the three major wars taking place in the Pacific theater: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. 

The courtyard gets used every day for promotions (I sewed on my chief stripe there), retirements, and reenlistments. People remark on what a special place the courtyard is. Not because it is located in our 50th state, but because of the people who paid with their lives to ensure we still enjoy our freedoms and liberties to this day. 

I can't help but think of those individuals who were alive and participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. They probably weren't all that different than you or me. They were serving their country, having a good time on their overseas assignment, never expecting to be thrust in the middle of a world war that would last nearly five years. 

I wonder how you and I would have reacted. Would we have passed the test? Of course we would have, those serving today are no different than those serving sixty-seven years ago. Our Airmen face danger every day and work in harm's way in many theaters of war, just as our fore-fathers did. 

This December 7, please take a moment and think about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Think about those who sacrificed and gave their all. Also, think about the many brave Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving today and protecting those same freedoms and liberties we enjoy in America. Never forget that the next Pearl Harbor could take place anywhere and at anytime!