Sunday, December 07, 2008

Raleigh N&O’s Pearl Harbor remembrances

On the 67th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack the Raleigh News & Observer carries a story of one survivor’s experiences that December 7 and since. Under the byline of Jim Wise, an outstanding reporter, the story begins - - -

John N. Pollok was out on deck that morning. It was right after breakfast, and he wanted a breath of air before going on watch down in the hot engine room.

Then he saw the planes coming in. When a machine-gun round hit the deck right in front of him, he knew Pearl Harbor was under attack.

"I got up and ran," he recalled, sitting last week in his Durham apartment surrounded by Christmas decorations and service memorabilia. "I was lucky I didn't get killed right then."

Pollok was a 21-year-old seaman aboard the USS Whitney, a repair vessel. He had joined the Navy in 1938, fresh out of Durham High School with thoughts of seeing the world and ambitions of earning a commission up through the ranks.

On that Sunday morning, 67 years ago today, he found himself firing a .50-caliber machine gun at Japanese Zeros while bombs and torpedoes went off all around him, ships exploded and sank and more than 2,400 Americans died.

"I did see the old Utah," he said. "Saw that hit with a torpedo and turn upside down, and about that time the Arizona blew up. They hit that with two torpedoes and I don't know how many bombs. ... I saw the West Virginia turn over. ... Saw the Shaw hit with a bomb, and it blew all to pieces." . . .

The rest of the story’s here. Relying on Pollak’s words, Wise respectfully and skillfully presents some of the complex of emotions and memories Pollak carried out of the war and through to this day in his 88th year.

Alongside the Pollak story, senior editor Dan Barkin offers a very thoughtful commentary - “What Pearl Harbor should teach us.”

Barkin concludes - - -

... Before Dec. 7, we were a nation that had, [UNC professor and former chief historian of the Air Force Richard] Kohn said, "kind of an uneven role" in Great Power politics. (Pre-9/11 we were a global superpower. Post-9/11 we were a global superpower. Not much discernible change.) "

After Pearl Harbor," he observed, "even though people wanted to go back to normal, they couldn't do it. What went on elsewhere in the world affected us, and not just economically, but politically and from a security standpoint."

Our elders learned that lesson from Pearl Harbor, but the years rolled by, and we youngsters were told that, after the fall of the Soviet empire, history had few if any surprises left for us. And then came Sept. 11.

So we had to learn once again, as a nation, to constantly question whether our government has good intelligence. We had to learn to be smarter about preparing for the unexpected.

The horrific recent events in Mumbai provide a sad refresher on the consequences of complacency in a dangerous world. In Kohn's words: "The one thing we know about the future is that we are likely to be surprised."

I think that's what the World War II generation wants us to remember this Dec. 7. I think they're mainly concerned that more than six decades after they defeated an existential threat to our nation -- a threat that filled the skies over Hawaii with Japanese fighters and bombers 67 years ago today -- that we'll forget what can happen when we let our guard slip. Just that.

Barkin’s nailed it. His entire commentary's here.

Today Wise, Barkin and the N&O reminded readers of one of the most critical events in our nation’s history, the service and sacrifices of our veterans, and some of what we need to remember and do going forward, if we're to keep America strong and as safe as possible.

In December 2006 the N&O published two beautifully written remembrance stories: “Living links to Pearl Harbor wane” and “Seeking peace at Pearl.”

The four N&O pieces cited here are examples of journalism at its best.


Anonymous said...

The N&O obviously has some excellent journalists? So why is the paper so biased, so partisan? Why does the paper always push its cultural metanarratives? Why did the paper help Nifong frame the lacrosse players with the truly dreadful and dishonest news coverage in late March 2006? Does someone inside the N&O have answers to these questions?