By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2012 – “What a wonderful idea America is,” the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today at the National World War II Memorial during the observance of the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The more than 350 Japanese aircraft that took part in the attack were dispatched from six aircraft carriers. Nineteen U.S. ships were sunk or damaged. All eight of the U.S. Navy’s battleships at Pearl Harbor were hit and four were sunk. Of the more than 300 American aircraft destroyed or damaged, most were still on the ground.
The attack shocked the nation “but it also stirred a quiet and peace-loving people to action,” Winnefeld said.
More than 16 million service members fought in World War II, and the memorial’s 4,048 gold stars represent the more than 400,000 service members who were killed or missing in action.
“This memorial is a very sacred place where we come to visit, to remember, to reflect and commemorate the defining moments of World War II,” said Mick Kicklighter, a retired Army lieutenant general and chairman of the board for the Friends of the National World War II Memorial.
Veterans of World War II fought against great odds, Kicklighter said.
“Not only did they fight and win that war and save this nation, but they literally saved the world,” Kicklighter said. “This nation will never forget … those who gave all their tomorrows.”
“Here on this sacred ground, we mark the price of freedom,” Winnefeld said. “So, it’s appropriate that the memorial honoring the service and sacrifice of so many in that conflict is our setting for today.”
Today the U.S. military “is involved in another conflict half-a-world away, as the result of a different surprise attack on American soil that killed nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans in one day,” the admiral said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
At that time, Winnefeld was the commander of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which was returning home from a routine deployment. The ties between those two attacks and the wars that followed include the roles played by his ship and the previous Enterprise, both of which launched the first strikes in response to surprise attacks on the United States.
“Now, imagine yourself aboard USS Enterprise on the night of those first strikes,” the admiral said. “Here’s part of what [I] told her crew: ‘Aboard Enterprise, good evening shipmates. The last time America actually went to war to defend against an attack on our homeland was almost exactly 60 years ago … tonight a ship named Enterprise will again be an integral part of our nation’s response. And, like 1941, this war is a little more personal than defending our vital interests. We’re defending our families.’”
“The men and women who today wear the cloth of our nation walk confidently in your footsteps. They look up to you -- specifically to you. They live your legacy as members of the next greatest generation,” Winnefeld told the World War II veterans in the audience.
“Today we pause to honor you and to salute those who won that war and paved the way for our nation’s prosperity and leadership over the last seven decades,” he added.
“Memorials like this beautiful memorial in which we’re having this ceremony and days of remembrance like this, try as we might, will never be able to adequately recognize your service and sacrifice,” the admiral told the veterans. “But we can thank you for what you’ve done for our nation.”