“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by air and naval forces by the Empire of Japan.”
Those were President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous first words after the Imperial Japanese Navy carried out a surprise attack on American Naval base Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.
With over 2,400 people dead, Dec. 7 was predicted to be remembered for generations of Amercians, but 74 years later, has it?
Andy Morris, an associate professor at Union College in the Department of History, often teaches classes centered on 20th century American history, and said he feels it has.
“Generally, Union students are coming from good high schools and strong academic backgrounds, so they know the basic facts about Pearl Harbor,” Morris said. “There will be those who don’t, but the standard high school student should know something about it. Decades have passed, but it hasn’t receded into history.”
Having students not know about Pearl Harbor hasn’t been a concern, Morris said, as he spends class time discussing the event in depth.
“Pearl Harbor is the great historical ‘What if?’ ” Morris said. “We explore the really entrenched feelings of isolationism from the American public and how, overnight, Pearl Harbor created a willingness to go to war and swung public opinion in that direction.”
Andrew Cassarino, a sophomore at Union, had Morris for an American history class this semester.
A history lover, Cassarino knew about Pearl Harbor since he was a tween, and said he hasn’t ever met someone who didn’t know about it.
Of his peers’ knowledge of the attack, Cassarino said, “If you say Dec. 7, no, but when you say Pearl Harbor, yes. I think a majority of people, at least who I have met, understand what happened that day. What they may not understand is the aftermath that followed.
“I think Pearl Harbor is taught to many people in order to help define World War II as a ‘good war’ and show the strength of American unification and resilience,” he added.
Jennifer Delton, a professor of U.S. history at Skidmore College, said she’s had similar experiences.
“I’ve never had a student not know about Pearl Harbor,” she said. “Their knowledge is to a certain extent, but it’s a very emotional moment in history most students have learned about in middle and high school.”
Fred Saccocio and Bill VanWie teach eighth-grade social studies classes at Draper Middle School in the Mohonasen Central School District in Rotterdam.
While they won’t get to World War II until the spring, they said they’ll mention the anniversary to their Monday classes.
“Pearl Harbor is almost a sacred topic,” Saccocio said Friday. “Students may not know the significance of the date Dec. 7 if it’s used or asked about out of context, but a lot of them do know — a lot more than someone might think.”
VanWie said he always has students who know about the historical attack even though his current students were born six decades later.
“It’s part of our fabric of the United States,” VanWie said. “Even though this attack is from generations past, the date has lived on. If there is a feeling of disconnect from the fear or shock people felt on Dec. 7, we can make a connection to the same shock, grief and anger Americans felt after 9/11.”
Though their current students are too young to remember the attacks on the World Trade Center, it still hits home with them, Saccocio said.
“Students know the date of 9/11 because they’ve been watching the footage their entire lives,” Saccocio said. “There’s so much they’ve seen and are moved by and that has helped them view Pearl Harbor in the same light, not forget it.”
VanWie said even if youngsters don’t know the significance of Dec. 7 on first mention, they often know the importance of what happened at the Hawaiian naval base.
“I don’t make kids remember many dates,” he said. “We want them to be more analytical and know details like the 2,400 lives lost in Pearl Harbor. We want them to know it’s our job to preserve it to solidify the legacy of the people who were frontline and remember those who perished that day.”
McKenzie Burns, a senior at Mohonasen High School, had Saccocio for social studies, and said she hasn’t forgotten the details of the Pearl Harbor attacks since.
“It hit me how horrible it had to be to be an American at that time,” Burns said Friday. “Every time I read about it, I get more sympathy in my heart for how the whole country was affected.”
“I would know the date if someone asked me about Dec. 7,” said Michael Palleschi, a Mohonasen freshman who had VanWie last year. “It shows what we went through and how we were able to stay strong as a country and fight back.”
Kunika Chahal, a senior at Mohonasen, remembers learning about Pearl Harbor from Saccocio’s class four years ago.
“I sure hope the day will live on,” Chahal said of Dec. 7. “The day anyone forgets something like Pearl Harbor is a day I would not want to be around for.”
She added, “It’s difficult to remember the horrific days in history, but we grew from what happened at Pearl Harbor and have learned to follow in the footsteps of the heroes who passed away that day. We learn from them to be better heroes ourselves.”