At approximately 0445 on September 1, 1939, the world changed forever. A change that continues to reverberate even now.
Years of blind, blissful, indifferent apathy, inept diplomacy, wasted chances and useless appeasement, saw the beginning of what would become 6 years of a world at war, the bloodiest war in human history, even 64 years after the fact. Over 50,000,000 men, women and children, world-wide, would perish before it was over.
It began as German forces invaded neighboring Poland, with Soviet Russia's complicity, and despite warnings from England and France. On September 3, Britain and France declared themselves at war with Germany.
From there, it would grow to a world conflagration.
It was a war that, in 1939, didn't include America. A good thing it was, too: in 1939, America wasn't ready. The regular American Army stood at 200,000 men. The American Air Force was part of the Army, and wasn't much of a force at all, hopelessly outdated and unready for war, against more experienced German and Japanese aggressors. The American Navy was also outdated and outnumbered.
American public sentiment was largely "it doesn't concern us" when it came to war in Europe and Asia; some politicians were more concerned with the possibilities and the threat posed to this constitutional republic by the forces of national socialist fascism and Japanese imperialism; but most of the politicians were largely in tune with the American public.
A little over two years later, a decision by a foreign government, and the indisputable "day of infamy" that their decision resulted in, changed America's world, too. That change would result in a nation shocked, outraged, and united in a common cause, and a just crusade.
A crusade that, when it was over, would cost over 400,000 American lives, in almost 4 years.
By 1945, it would result in America having about 16,000,000 men and women in uniform, and the largest air and naval forces the Earth had ever born witness to, and would never see in such incredible and formidable multitudes again. It would also result in the advent of the Atomic Age, and a decision to employ the new age to end a brutal, bloody conflict in the Pacific.
At the same time, that use provided a possible preview of -- if Man's wisdom didn't catch up to technology -- a tightrope walk toward, perhaps, a future Armageddon. A tightrope the world has narrowly, gingerly walked ever since, and probably will beyond my lifetime.
As the Greatest Generation passes beyond us, the memories of what they did, and what they sacrificed, cannot and must not depart with them, even as the lessons they so painfully learned, seem to have to be relearned by generations not interested or educated in the words of Santayana: those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.
And those words proved prophetic, a little less than five years after the end of World War II, as the United States would be forced to relearn painful lessons all over again, after a "bring the boys home" rush to forget, meets a need to remember, in a foreign land called Korea.