HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the day after the surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor.
80 years later, no matter where you were those famously, bone-chilling words were repeated at many of the remembrance ceremonies held throughout the nation.
On Tuesday, active servicemen and women, retired veterans and civilians gathered to pay their respects to the 2,403 American lives lost in the attack, including 30 Alabamians, that December morning in Hawaii.
The names of those 30 Alabamians can be seen at the Veterans Memorial in Downtown Huntsville, where Tuesday’s ceremony was held.
Captain Washington Johnson, a fourth-generation Alabamian and active U.S Navy member, was a guest speaker at the event. He said says seeing those names on the World War II memorial shows just how much Madison County contributed to the nation’s defense.
It was the first time this specific event was held and Captain Johnson says he hopes to make it a yearly tribute.
He also hopes that it brings in veterans, their families and people from all over the state, “Come to North Alabama as we celebrate the lives of those who gave to this nation, ” to not only pay respect to the memorial but have a chance to see the names of those men that gave the ultimate sacrifice that December morning.
Every year, the day of remembrance has a theme, this year it was Valor, Sacrifice and Peace.
“30 of whom were Alabamians their valor and sacrifice reminds us that freedom is not free, but often comes with a cost that can not always be measured,” Captain Johnson said.
Captain Johnson, said his father, who served in the United States Army Air Corps and his mother instilled in him and his family, service, commitment and dedication, which ultimately inspired him to serve.
“My father would often share incredible stories with me about his service and the United States Army Air Corps that proceeded the Air Force and that encouraged me to want to join and to serve this nation,” Captain Johnson told News 19.
For the ceremony, Captain Johnson asked his sister, Janice Johnson-Browne to sing the national anthem.
“You know what I did, I broke down in tears, and I said, oh my goodness it would be my honor, I said this will be my contribution and this is the way that I can remember them on this day,” Browne said.
Like many military families, there’s a deep sense of appreciation.
“It’s very sobering and it makes one very careful, it keeps one very prayerful,” Brown said of her brother.
Joyce Johnson, the Captain’s wife says her appreciation is something she can’t help but show to her husband, “Every day that I experience any degree of freedom, any type of special benefit because of his service, it is attributed to just that.”
Those who lost their lives 80 years ago were honored with a wreath that was placed at the base of the memorial while taps were being played.
“To individuals who don’t understand, open up your heart, open up your ears, look around you, at the freedoms that you have, that others put their lives on the line for,” Browne said.
Captain Johnson and his wife Joyce agree that giving is what makes America great, “We encourage people to find a way to give back to society, no matter what it is, what makes America great, is our willingness to give.”