DECATUR — Pete Frank remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor differently than some. He was a junior in high school when he heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech before Congress asking for a declaration of war, which inspired him to serve his country, he said.
The war took the “boys of Decatur and turned them into men,” Frank said, “in faraway and unknown places” they’d only previously learned about in textbooks and on maps.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack that killed 2,403 people and decimated the U.S. Pacific Fleet shocked the nation and led to the United States entering World War II.
The Macon County Honor Guard and Veteran’s Assistance Commission of Macon County conducted a three-volley rifle salute and playing of taps for Thursday's 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
The U.S. Navy provided a wreath to place on Lake Decatur from a dock in Nelson Park, said Dave Freyling, chairman of the Veteran's Assistance Commission of Macon County.
Frank said he joined the U.S. Navy following his graduation from high school, one of many to do so from Decatur, he said. He read some of the famous lines from Roosevelt’s speech that inspired him to answer the call of service to the group gathered Thursday.
Standing before Congress the day after the attack, Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy." He said the United States was "suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan," but promised inevitable triumph "so help us God."
Congress passed a war declaration that was signed by Roosevelt that day. The United States would be at war across the globe until Japan's formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.
Thursday's event was to honor the memory of Pearl Harbor, those who died there and in the following years of World War II. They also remembered those who survived the war, and all veterans.
The group hoped to remember those who “have taken up the call to defend the American way of life,” said Frank, a lifelong resident of Decatur.
The number of World War II veterans is shrinking each day, taking their experiences and memories with them, Frank said.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs there are 558,000 surviving World War II veterans out of about 16 million who served. Illinois has just under 21,000 World War II veterans still alive.
Freyling said it is important for people to remember such events and learn from them. He compared the way younger people experienced the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when planes flew into the World Trade Center towers in New York City killing 2,996 people, to the way the older generations experienced Pearl Harbor.
“To a lot of people, 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor,” he said. “People have a tendency to forget it; it’s been a long time.”