It was a balmy, pleasant Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, that December 7, 1941. I was in my first semester of high school, and that afternoon, I was at the home of my cousins, playing badminton in their side yard with them and some of the neighborhood kids. At about 2 p.m., my aunt came running out onto the front porch and called to us: come in, quickly! Listen to the radio! The Japanese are bombing Hawaii! We all went inside to listen to reports as they came in, minute by minute. The main attack had been on a place near Honolulu called Pearl Harbor. Most of us had never heard of Pearl Harbor, but the girl from across the street had: her brother was in service, and was stationed there. She began to cry, fearful for his well-being.
The next day was the feast of the Immaculate Conception; after Mass we listened again to the radio as President Franklin Roosevelt called the previous day one that would “live in infamy,” and declared war upon “the empire of Japan,” as he called it. Those of us who were alive and conscious of world events then can never forget where we were and what we were doing on that Sunday afternoon which brought about our participation in World War II.
Just eleven-and-a-half years later, in 1953, I was in the Navy, aboard the USS Boxer, an aircraft carrier, and on Easter Sunday morning, we glided quietly into Pearl Harbor and were able to see the wreckage of a number of the ships destroyed by the Japanese bombs during that attack. It was hard to imagine that that peaceful, serene location could have been the scene of such horror on an Advent Sunday not so long before. Just a couple of years ago, I was there again, this time as a civilian tourist, and was able to tour the area of the attack, looking down into the water of the harbor at the remains of the USS Arizona which blew up, taking with her to the bottom hundreds of her crewmen whose bodies have never been retrieved from the ship that entombs them. It is a sobering and very moving experience.
On the afternoon of that Easter Sunday, 1953, I went into the city of Honolulu, adjacent to Pearl Harbor, and made a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the cathedral of Our Lady of Peace—the church where Father Damien, the leper priest of Molokai, was ordained before being sent, at his own request, to give his life by working with the lepers. What a contrast! Pearl Harbor, where an act of war killed over 2000 military and civilian victims. And the cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, where for many years, the Prince of Peace has dwelt in the Holy Eucharist among the people and from which the sacramental life of the Church flows out bringing life and hope and joy. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.