It’s easy to forget that if they knew about it at all, people looked upon Pearl Harbor as just a U.S. naval post in the Pacific.

But it’s now become one of those phrases that immediately conjures tragedy. Most individuals who hear it don’t contemplate its long history as a shipping port. What comes to mind are the images of U.S. naval vessels engulfed in flames and the horrifying realization that many sailors were doomed to perish.

Japanese pilots carried out a surprise attack 80 years ago today against the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In all, the airstrike killed 2,403 people — including 68 civilians — and wounded 1,178 others. The attack destroyed or damaged 19 ships.

Half of those killed that day were on the USS Arizona, which sank and entombed the sailors beneath the sea. In keeping with a time-honored tradition, the U.S. Navy has left the ship and her crew undisturbed. A memorial now stands directly above the site where the ship rests.

Some within the imperial Japanese government believed the sneak attack would provoke the United States into action. They were correct. It transformed an American population reluctant to enter the global conflict underway into outraged citizens willing to fight for their country and, if need be, die defending the freedoms upon which it was founded.

Engaging the Japanese in battle would have been harrowing enough for those in uniform. But World War II encompassed fighting in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. A few days after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on us.

The sacrifices required to win the war were not borne solely by those who became part of the military, although they paid some of the heaviest costs. Many Americans did their part on the home front to ensure our airmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers had the equipment they needed to prevail.

Led by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the United States fought alongside its allies to thwart fascism in Europe and imperialism in the Pacific. Americans were elated with the victory — but it took a horrible toll across the globe.

More than 418,000 Americans, 557,000 French and 450,000 British people died. Germany lost at least 6.6 million of its citizens and Japan at least 2.6 million. More than 24 million Soviet and 20 million Chinese citizens were killed.

The number of living Americans who witnessed that dreadful day 80 years ago has continually declined. We should spend what time we have left with them to talk about this period of history and honor the sacrifices they made on our behalf.

There will come a moment when these courageous individuals will exist only in our memories. We should not take for granted the wonderful gift of their presence or the extraordinary efforts they made to preserve our liberties.

On this page opposite the editorial is a gallery of photographs we’re calling Faces of Freedom. They are images of people from Northern New York who served in World War II.

Some of them survived long after the war while others have died years ago. A few of the photos are of those killed during the war. Let us all reflect on what they did to confront tyranny and preserve freedom across the globe.

Many Americans have never experienced what it’s like to live under conditions of war.

We have those who endured the worst that World War II had to offer to thank for being spared this fate — and we should start with the heroes buried right off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Many who have visited the memorial to all who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor have reported a periodic bubble rising from the USS Arizona. The ship had a full complement of oil on Dec. 7, 1941, and small amounts continue to leak and float to the surface of the ocean.

These bubbles of oil are called the “tears of the Arizona.” Yes, even after 80 years have passed, we still mourn these egregious losses with her.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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