Seventy five years ago tomorrow marks the anniversary of the end of World War II on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Twenty-three years ago, I had the great privilege to serve as part of a team that received the USS Missouri from the Navy and brought it to Pearl Harbor where it could serve as a reminder to all of the history of World War II. The ship is a poignant reminder of the worst war in human history that involved more than 30 countries and 60-80 million deaths, including six million Jews and an additional estimated 1 million of other ethnicities including those singled out for sexual orientation. in Nazi concentration camps. With a scrappy but small staff, our team worked with the support of over 10,000 volunteers over a period of six months to transform the ship into a memorial/ museum and we opened to the public for educational tours in January of 1999. Today the ship floats in the harbor 1,000 feet away from the USS Arizona that lies just beneath the water as a tomb still holding sailors who were onboard when it was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941, marking the entry of America into World War II.
Today the world is grappling with a pandemic that has caused over six million cases of COVID, and 845,000 deaths. Anxiety and stress abound and many individuals are experiencing trauma from the death or serious illness of a loved one. Our country is also grappling with ongoing injustices and violence related to systemic racism. No doubt, it is unbearably tragic to lose a friend or family member no matter what the cause. For most of us alive today, it is hard to fathom the vastness of the sacrifices and tragedy during World War II. We can look to the “Greatest Generation” today for inspiration, hope, and an example of perseverance to help us through the adversity and challenges we face today.
On September 2, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur spoke as Supreme Allied Commander of the armed forces. Just prior to signing the surrender documents on the deck of the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, he said, “It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past — a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”
And General MacArthur’s hope 75 years ago is as relevant today as it was then.