Even with the passing of the years, Pearl Harbor's place in American history is undiminished.
At 7:55 a.m. 60 years ago today, Japanese bombers began an attack on the Hawaiian naval base. The surprise attack left 18 ships sunk or severely damaged and 200 airplanes destroyed.
This year, many comparisons have been made between the events of Dec. 7, 1941, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Eerily, the number of casualties at Pearl Harbor -- 3,700 -- is close to the last revised list of dead and missing at the World Trade Center in New York.
In both instances, the death and devastation brought Americans to their feet in outrage. The day of infamy, as President Franklin Roosevelt aptly described it, pushed the United States into World War II. The terrorism of Sept. 11 pushed the United States to organize a worldwide war on terrorism, concentrating for the time being on Afghanistan, where the ringleaders of this year's attacks have sought refuge behind the burqas of innocent civilian women.
For more than a generation of Americans, the current war on terrorism is the first real taste of extended wartime. The children of Vietnam veterans have been blessed with a peaceful era and the demise of the Cold War. Korean War veterans, along with their children and grandchildren, continue to struggle for appropriate recognition of their role in defending our freedoms.
Of all the major events of World War II, Pearl Harbor to this day is one event that is seared into our collective memories, no matter what our generation is. We continue to mourn for the thousands who died on Dec. 7 and for the thousands more who took up arms in the service of their country on battlefields around the world to defend freedom and national self-determination.
The warriors who have safeguarded America's open and free society also have extended the same rights to those who this year tasted the fullness and greatness of living in a free society before they boarded airplanes with the intention of turning them into living guided missiles.
It is this conundrum that perplexes so many Americans today as we observe another anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor: How is it possible to preserve and maintain our personal liberties while, at the same time, ensuring our safety from those who would use those very liberties to harm us?
This is no easy question. But as difficult as it may be, this is one problem that Americans will see resolved, just as this nation has survived every similar test in its history.
To those Pearl Harbor veterans who are still with us, we offer the nation's gratitude. To those who died so that our liberties might survive, we offer our heartfelt thanks.