Editorial: On Pearl Harbor Day, pay tribute to the World War II heroes who turned back fascism

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  • Bob Dole
    Bob Dole
    American politician

Virginia Beach’s Eddie Shames volunteered for the U.S. Army in September 1942. Paratroopers were required to be 21 years old so Shames, only 19 at the time, forged his mother’s signature to fight for his country.

A few months later and about 1,400 miles away in Russell, Kansas, 19-year-old Robert Dole also joined the service, enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Shames and Dole were two of the 18 million Americans who either enlisted or were drafted as part of the gargantuan war effort that formally began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. And as we mark the anniversary of that attack, we pay tribute to Americans — Shames and Dole among them — who sacrificed so much to secure victory in World War II.

It has been 80 years since a coordinated, surprise assault on U.S. Navy forces in Hawaii killed 2,403 U.S. personnel in what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “day that will live in infamy.”

In Hampton Roads, the news of the attack was greeted with shock, horror, sorrow and disbelief — as it was across the country. The Dec. 8, 1941, Virginian-Pilot front-page headlines screamed, unmistakably: “U.S. and Japan at war” and “Norfolk stunned by news.”

Inspired by the calls to arms, the determination to avenge those lost and a host of other reasons, the country rallied to the fight against fascism and the threat it posed. Young men volunteered for service in droves, eager to do their part in the nation’s defense.

That included Shames, who died at age 99 on Friday. He participated in many of the pivotal battles in the European campaign as an officer in E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, the “Easy Company” made famous by the book and miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

Shames jumped into Normandy, France, on D-Day. He fought in Operation Market Garden, the daring if doomed attempt to capture key bridges in the Netherlands, and the frigid German counteroffensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. He helped liberate Dachau concentration camp and the “Eagle’s Nest,” Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

And it included Dole, who died on Sunday at age 98. He entered the war in 1944 as a second lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division and wrote in 2005 that he “thought it was mighty odd that a kid from Kansas who had seen a mountain up close only once in his life would be assigned to lead a platoon of mountain troops.”

On April 14, 1945, during a campaign to drive the Nazis from an area near Castel d’Aiano in the Apennine mountains southwest of Bologna, Italy, Dole was struck by a German shell and injured so severely that he was left for dead on the battlefield.

Dole was eventually evacuated and spent three years enduring a grueling recovery. He wore the scars of that war throughout his lengthy career in public service, which included eight years in the U.S. House, nearly 28 years in the U.S. Senate, a stint as chairman of the Republican Party, a nominee for vice president and three bids for the White House, including in 1996 when he was the GOP nominee.

Even as we celebrate heroes such as Shames and Dole, it’s important to remember the war effort wasn’t limited to men in the service.

More than 350,000 women joined the armed services during the war. People served in supporting capacity, such as through the Civilian Public Service program. They flocked to factories. And they did what they could at home, from buying war bonds to collecting rubber, metal and clothing to aid the war effort.

As we remember those lost at Pearl Harbor today — and as we celebrate the memories of Shames, Dole and all our World War II heroes — we pay tribute to all those who served and who sacrificed to turn back fascism and secure freedom for future generations.

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