Sixty-nine years ago, at 7:48 AM on Sunday, Dec. 7, a remarkable period of shared sacrifice began. It lasted four years and changed our country forever.

Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor at 7:48 AM.  More than 2,400 American servicemen lost their lives. More than 1,280 were injured. Four battleships were sunk. Four more were damaged. These stately men-of-war were the pride of the American naval fleet. Japan’s focus on these battle wagons in the initial wave of the attack was designed to destroy our morale. Three cruisers were sunk or damaged along with three destroyers. Luckily, America’s fleet of aircraft carriers –the Lexington, the Enterprise and the Saratoga — were at sea along with their battle group of support ships, or the loss would have been even more devastating.

Germany, although not bound by any treaty, then declared war on the United States and the world was at war.

For more than four years, Americans of all stripes sacrificed for the good of the war effort.  Victory gardens were planted; Americans, many still recovering from the great depression, bought war bonds and did without things that today we consider critical for our very existence. To buy certain essentials like gasoline required ration certificates that were allocated on a monthly basis. Silk stockings for women were a true luxury and rarely available. The war effort in the U.S., unlike some depictions from Hollywood, was anything but glamorous. Americans gladly did without things that today would elicit howls of anger and indignant protests.

The outcome of this war was anything but a foregone conclusion.  American forces in Europe endured shortages of supplies, terrible weather and a series of setbacks that, at times, shook the nation’s confidence.  For the first two years,the news was very bad.  In the Pacific, savage and bloody island-to-island combat took an enormous toll.  Victory there, like Europe, was helped along by enormous good luck and tactical blunders by Japanese and German commanders.  When America and our Allies prevailed in Europe there was enormous joy.  When the Japanese agreed to terms of surrender there was a collective national sigh of relief and an outpouring of thanks like at no time in our history.

Brave soldiers, remarkable volunteers, legions of factory workers, and ordinary American families, all  of whom were willing to give up almost everything to protect our great nation  — shared sacrifice that has been unmatched in modern history — made the difference.

America faces another immense challenge today. The difference again will be our willingness to commit to shared sacrifice.

But for today let us pause and remember those who perished in the attacked on Pearl Harbor 69 years ago, and we should honor all those ordinary Americans who were willing to do without so that this nation might persevere.

© 2010 John Gregory Self