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Pearl Harbor: Do you remember?

Caleb Cole (center) with his niece Nanny Clay Brown (left) and daughter (right), circa 1933
Caleb Cole (center) with his niece Nanny Clay Brown (left) and daughter (right), circa 1933
Author's collection

Do you? Probably not. Now distanced the Biblical three score and ten, only one American in 14 can recall where they were and what they were doing that first Sunday in December of 1941.

In Powell, Texas, the Hawaii news bulletin hit Caleb Cole hard. Now at the close of his life … he realized America was going to war. Again.

You see, Uncle Caleb was a veteran himself. Born in 1846, he was one of the last living Texans who had served the Confederacy. As a member of Captain Dance’s Fluvanna (VA) Artillery, he had never been wounded, but he would be stone deaf the rest of his life. As he would recall to his grandnephew, “At one point during the shelling of Petersburg, every man in our section had blood running from his ears.”

And now the horror was happening again.

But in the wisdom of his last years, he had another memory to draw upon. In this war that had so consumed his youth, he had actually witnessed its end. He had surrendered at Appomattox. And in 1941, he was one of the very few still surviving veterans who had been there.

So as America now takes a moment to observe our “day of infamy” a lifetime ago, reflect on what Caleb Cole might have pondered when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor… and what those of the greatest generation who are still with us, might be trying to tell us …

Whatever we have gained

Or lost, or thrown away, we are old men.

You look before you and we look behind,

And we are playing life out in the shadow--

But that’s not all of it. The sunshine lights

A good road yet before us if we look,

And we are doing that when least we know it;

For both of us are children of the sun,

Like you, and like the weed there at your feet.

The shadow calls us, and it frightens us—

We think; but there’s a light behind the stars

And we old fellows who have dared to live,

We see it—and we see the other things,

The other things.

(Caleb Cole enlisted in the Southern artillery in December, 1864, and is listed among the 8,000 plus Confederates actually surrendering with Lee at Appomattox. He passed away in Texas on 13 May 1942, a month after the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and is buried in Corsicana. Pvt. Cole is the author’s g-g-grand uncle.)

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