Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a witness to the Pearl Harbor attacks, spoke today on the Senate floor about the 70th anniversary of the day he thought the world was ending.
The bombing, he said, "began a period of my life where I became an adult and I hope a good American." He added, "It is something that I will never forget that changed my life forever."
Only 17, Inouye was getting ready for church on Sunday morning Dec. 7, 1941, in Hawaii. He was listening to music when the radio announcer interrupted the programming with screaming. Inouye and his father ran outside.
"You could see these black puffs. And then you knew what was happening. But suddenly we're watching these black puffs of explosions, you could hear a rumble just overhead, and there were three aircraft. They were pearl gray in color and red dots on the wings. I knew what was happening, and I thought the world had just come to an end."
Inouye was a volunteer medical assistant and helped the week following to take care of the wounded and the dead, maintaining a morgue on an elementary school premise.
"I became familiar with the cost of war - not the full cost. But I knew what was happening. The war was much more than just blood and guts."
In the days that followed, Inouye's father, a Japanese citizen residing in the United States, was classified by the U.S. government as a "4-C," a designation of an enemy agent.
"Just imagine that," Inouye said, and paused. "Enemy alien. This was used as one of the justifications to round up over 120,000 Japanese, most of them Americans of Japanese ancestry, and place them into these internment camps."
"Yes, it was unconstitutional but our leaders felt that the war was a justification to set aside the constitution and set aside the laws."
Inouye, who later went on to become a Medal of Honor recipient and veteran of WWII, said the experience of Pearl Harbor and his father's designation as an enemy agent "encouraged" him and other young people to "demonstrate to our neighbors and to our government that we were loyal, that we wanted to do our part in this war."
He says this is the most important lesson of today's anniversary.
"If December 7 is going to teach us anything, it should be that we must remain vigilant at all times, not just to avoid war, but vigilant among ourselves so that we would not use this as a justification to set aside our most honored document, the constitution."