December 7, 1941, is forever emblazoned in history as the day of infamy. But it was more than that. For Americans the attack was personal. In the weeks that followed, recruiting offices extended operating hours to accommodate the thousands of Americans who lined up to answer their nation’s call and exact retribution on those responsible. The day ushered in our nation’s entry into a war that would claim more than 407,000 American lives.
It's personal for The American Legion as well. The Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion directs us to “preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in all wars.” This includes remembering the 2,403 Americans killed during the attack, the thousands more wounded and the countless witnesses who were forever changed.
To this day our friends in the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) continue to identify the remains of those who were killed in the attack but remained unknown due to limitations in scientific technology. One such hero was Navy Mess Attendant 1st Class Ralph M. Boudreaux of New Orleans. Stationed on the USS Oklahoma, Boudreaux’s battleship was struck by multiple Japanese torpedoes before it capsized. The 20-year-old sailor was among the 429 Oklahoma crewmen who died from the attack.
Eventually, Oklahoma’s “unknowns” were interred at the National Cemetery of the Pacific before being exhumed in 2015 for scientific analysis by DPAA. Boudreaux will be returned to his family next month for burial in Slidell, La.
The American Legion is extremely supportive of the DPAA’s mission to provide the fullest possible accounting for the missing heroes of all wars involving the United States. If you are related to someone who is MIA, you may be able to donate a DNA specimen and assist in identification efforts.
Preserving the memories of the fallen is no doubt easier when there are living eyewitnesses. The challenge is to continue the same respect when all are gone. Every veteran of World War II can rest assure that The American Legion will forever honor their sacrifice and service. I hope to convey that message to any Pearl Harbor survivor that I have the privilege to meet as I attend official observances today.
Visiting the USS Arizona and the other Pearl Harbor memorials is not just my duty as national commander of the nation’s largest veterans organization. It’s personal.