As history's page turns, some continue to note sacrifices made on Pearl Harbor Day
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 07, 2013 | 3167 views |  0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bob Ingram is shown in an Eastaboga park established to remember the life of his brother, George, who died at Pearl Harbor. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Bob Ingram is shown in an Eastaboga park established to remember the life of his brother, George, who died at Pearl Harbor. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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The last time George Washington Ingram's family saw him, he was walking down a red Alabama dirt road in his white Navy uniform.

His brother Bob is one of the few left who remember. Bob was 2 years old when George was killed Dec. 7, 1941, when Imperial Japan attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, decimating the U.S. fleet and pulling America into World War II. Now 74, Bob still has a few memories of his brother, the kind that are hard to distinguish from things seen in a photograph.

There's no way he could forget. For seven decades, he was the hero's younger brother. In school, Bob wrote reports on George. No other kid had a brother with a Navy destroyer escort named after him.

"My mother always told me, 'Your brother gave his life for you,’" he said.

Today, for the first time since he can remember, Bob Ingram doesn’t have anything scheduled to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day. You can drive by the park he built in memory of his brother on Fish Hatchery Road in Eastaboga. But he may not be there.

"I'm down with a back problem," he said in a telephone interview. "I can't get out of bed."

This is a glimpse of what Ingram has feared for years. There was a time when public officials and news outlets couldn't help but comment on the passing of every Dec. 7, any more than they could treat Sept. 11 like just another day. But last year, there was no local Pearl Harbor Day event, though Ingram invited reporters to his park. Ingram knows he won't be around forever.

"When we're gone," Ingram said of people his age, "Who's going to carry it on?"

Dec. 7, 1941. A date that will live in infamy. For the "greatest generation," and their children, and their children's children, it was a call-and-response as familiar as any current beer commercial. When World War II veterans filled Congress and the corner offices of a thousand businesses, the whole nation regarded the date with a small shudder of dread.

Now, these veterans are as rare as a silver dime. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 16 million Americans served in the military during some point in the war. In 2012 there were 1.7 million left. The youngest would be in their 80s.

The Star attempted to contact the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, only to find the organization is no more. While the group's website is still operating, the group disbanded at the end of 2011, according to Associated Press reports from the time. Organizers told the AP that administering the group had become a burden on the aging members.

Calhoun County Circuit Clerk Eli Henderson isn't sure where to take it from here. A Marine veteran and former county commissioner, Henderson has helped organize commemorations of conflicts as fresh in memory as Afghanistan and as old in history as the Creek War. He can see Pearl Harbor slipping from memory into on-the-page history. He's not sure how to stop the slide.

"That's a very, very good question," he said.

Not all battles get equal billing in history, Henderson noted. Every history buff knows Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, he said, because of its larger importance to the Civil War. Henderson expects Pearl Harbor will live on in a similar way. But preserving the day's emotional punch, when all the survivors are gone, is another thing.

"It's a natural progression of history," he said.

Henderson has done his part, helping to get a monument to George Ingram placed in Anniston's Centennial Park. Henderson also stopped by the newspaper to drop off a letter, written by Ingram, as a reminder of Pearl Harbor Day.

Calhoun Countians don't seem to have a problem recognizing Pearl Harbor veterans, though it doesn't always happen on Dec. 7. Four survivors of the attack led Anniston's Veterans Day parade in 2010.

Only two of those grand marshals are still living. Bill Nestor, a former artillery officer who saw the first wave of the attack from a cliff overlooking Pearl Harbor, said he’ll meet with fellow survivor George Murray for lunch at the Olive Garden at 11 a.m. today. Nothing else is planned, he said.

“We used to do more, you know, but I’m 91 and George is even older,” Nestor said.

Ceremonies are harder to do now, but for Nestor, the memory is still fresh.

“Of all the things I’ve done, this is the one thing I can’t forget,” he said.

Ingram, however, is stunned by how few people recognize the actual date. People have asked him why he lowers his flag to half staff on that day. He asked a schoolteacher recently about the meaning of Dec. 7. The teacher got it right, but had to think about it.

"People have forgotten Pearl Harbor Day," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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