An inspirational speech from Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. | Dispatches from Pearl Harbor


Special Correspondent

PEARL HARBOR — In the week I spent in Hawaii for the commemoratiob of the 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, I was privileged to hear many speeches given by U.S. military leaders. None was more inspiring than the address on Dec. 7 by Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr.

It was fitting that Adm. Harris gave the keynote address that day. Not only is he the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which was attacked in Pearl Harbor 75 years ago, he is the son of an U.S. Navy chief petty officer and a Japanese woman who met each other after the war.

When he assumed leadership of the U.S. Pacific Command at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 2015, Adm. Harris became the U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking Asian-American. He was born in Japan but raised on a farm in Tennessee, so he has a bit of a Southern accent that slips out now and again.

Adm. Harris’s father served on the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which pulled out of Pearl Harbor just a couple of days before the Japanese attack.

Adm. Harris described Dec. 7, 1945 as a day of gallantry, heroism, and loss.

More than 2,400 people were killed, 1,200 wounded, and the majority of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was taken out of action — all in less than two hours. Standing in front of the USS Arizona Memorial, he described the scars that remain from that day.

The battleship USS Arizona and USS Utah and most of their crew are still entombed in these waters, and bullet holes remain in buildings at Ford Island and nearby Hickam Field. I saw these bullet holes and broken windows myself when I toured those facilities. The buildings have not been repaired or painted — they look exactly as they did in the 1940s.

These scars, he said, give us “a precious opportunity to reflect — to reflect on what it means to be a patriot, to reflect on what it means to be a nation tested by war, and to reflect on both the costs and blessings of liberty.”

The admiral received thunderous applause from the crowd when he stated, “You can bet that the men and women we honor today — and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago — never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played.”

Adm. Harris reminded us that a free nation cannot survive without those who are willing to place service to country ahead of service to self. Paraphrasing the words of Isaiah in the Bible, he stated that, when duty called, our people replied, “Here am I, America. Send me.”

The admiral left many of us teary-eyed when he said, “Although many from the Greatest Generation are no longer with us, we can still hear their stories of duty, of honor and of courage. Their ghosts walk amongst us. Their spirits speak to us: ‘Protect this house; this we’ll defend.’ ”

He received a standing ovation from the assembled crowd when he ended his poignant speech with the words, “… may God bless the United States of America, which has always been — and forever shall be — the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

You can view the speech in its entirety here.