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Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and Combat Trauma

By Lindsay Turpin

On this day, December 7th, eighty-one years ago in 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces, killing 2,403 servicemembers and civilians, injuring 1,178, sinking two U.S. Navy ships, and destroying 188 aircrafts. The Japanese government had also sent a letter declaring war on the United States, which was received while the country was under attack. As we look back on this day, we not only acknowledge those who lost their lives to save others, we must also think of those who lived to deal with the consequences of this moment.

Though many involved in this day in history are no longer with us, the ripple effects of war trauma undoubtedly persist in the families of the servicemembers present that day. Those who lived for a while after Pearl Harbor likely dealt with PTSD relating to violent experiences. Consequently, the psychological damage of crises such as this persists through those connected to Pearl Harbor heroes.

The incident at Pearl Harbor and its severe impact on those who were involved is just one example of the terror of war experiences. Serving in the military requires a plethora of sacrifices that endure for life. A sole traumatic event is difficult to manage, not to mention a military lifestyle for many years with repeated exposure to violence and terror.

Veterans and servicemembers most often assume their roles because they believe in defending their country, encouraging democracy, and protecting their loved ones. They begin with noble motivations that they know will require sacrifices through all aspects of life, and still, with the struggles that follow, they trudge on.

The servicemembers who seek to protect their country deserve honor. Many step forward in times of distress to save others. Some examples of heroes from Pearl Harbor include Samuel Fuqua, Peter Tomich, George Welch, Kenneth Taylor, and Doris Miller. Fuqua played a monumental role in helping injured sailors evacuate U.S.S. Arizona as it was sinking, waiting until almost everyone was off the ship before abandoning it. Tomich, though he sadly died on his ship, also helped with evacuation and secured the boilers to prevent a disastrous explosion. Welch and Taylor were pilots who braved the violent skies to shoot down enemy planes and inhibit the goals of bombers. Miller, who was Black and unfairly limited to the roles of cook and laundry attendant in the Navy, heroically used his strength from an amateur boxing career to lift the injured to safer places. He even figured out how to use weapons for defense, though he was not previously trained, to shoot at the attackers.

Just a few anecdotes about the bravery and selflessness of humans during crisis shows how indispensable these heroes are in war. Yet the combat state of mind goes home with them. It’s nearly impossible to untrain, and veteran mental health is destroyed by their past.

The extent to which this trauma follows veterans home is powerfully demonstrated by the documentary Those Who Serve. In fact, it examines some of the worst-case scenarios that can occur when PTSD goes unchecked. The psychological trauma of war can result in flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts. These panicked states of mind, when untreated, can lead veterans to take extreme actions while barely conscious of what goes on. Those Who Serve masterfully captures the complexity of situations with clear victims who should be respected, while also understanding that the perpetrators were also victims, but of mental illness. The film touches on a need for the criminal justice system to recognize this influence on violent actions by veterans, and also shows that adequate treatment for PTSD when veterans return from war can make all the difference. JCI is proud to continually partner with the filmmakers of Those Who Serve to spread this crucial and complex message, increasing compassion for veterans. For more information, check out the trailer for the film.


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