Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

December 8, 2012

Dad, coach, and Tom were three of thousands who helped make today possible

It only took about 110 minutes to start what became the last day on earth for 2,335 American soldiers, many of whom died in their pajamas or at the breakfast table. In less than two hours, another 1,143 were wounded and many of them died within the next few days or weeks. Sixty-eight civilians did not survive that awful Sunday morning, either. World War II started at 7:55 a.m. and was in full bloom on this date 71 years ago, as many of you will remember.

After worrying about Hitler and the battle in Europe which had “officially” been going on since September 1, 1939, Americans finally had their world turned upside down with news of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

This has always been a week of remembrance for me. My father, James Hypes, served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and no sailor from that period ever quite recovered from what happened in Hawaii. Later, another long-time friend, the late Graham High School guidance counselor and football coach Glynn Carlock, Sr. (who was a proud Marine) often talked about this week and this day during the years I taught at GHS. It was also his birthday, as I recall, so that time was certainly special to a man who was probably as close to being a general at school than anyone I ever met.

At the Daily Telegraph, my friend of some 40 years, the late executive editor Tom Colley, never failed to corral me in his newsroom office to discuss the history attached to the first week in December. Every year, we’d either team up to do a story or column and once the staff developed a special edition on the 50th anniversary of the war itself. With the possible exception of D-Day, not many historical events grabbed Tom’s attention like Pearl Harbor.

I can still see the light in the eyes of those men just recalling the day of the attack and the one following. All three were military veterans. Tom had served in the Air Force during the height of the Cold War, barely across the Turkish border from Russia in those days when it seemed nuclear war was always only a button push away.

My father never got over the deception. He was not convinced, either, that the American intelligence had not known the Japanese were going to make such an attack and that the Navy — “his” Navy, was left holding the bag. It is difficult to put into words how angry the Pearl Harbor attack made those World War II soldiers.

Carlock, who took the word “pride” to another level, bristled when the subject arose. His anger at the fact that his country would be slammed in such fashion was a little scary, even half a century after the fact. He never joked about it. “Coach” was one of many who loved this nation and he said there was no place on earth where he could have done what he did except here. For him, the American Dream truly would have been possible no place else.

Tom kept his ill feelings wrapped in scholarship, to a degree. Behind his glasses, the sparkle, however, was too bright to hide. He could appreciate the military posturing on both sides but it was always eventually too much for him and for a while every December he joined the Air Force again, ready to protect the country from harm. When that happened, his cold stare was strong enough to freeze whatever water was anywhere in the area.

None of them was able to hide their loyalty, nor their American pride. Having been in the military in distant places, they all knew that the United States with all its faults is still a country like no other. All three of them grew up in the coalfields, surrounded by family and friends who labored in the earth just to provide for their families. They were mighty thankful that no enemy army had been able to take away our freedom.

More than that, each of them had been willing to leave home, away from their own loved ones, and put their lives on the line to help protect us all. They might have heard about Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, who died trying to save sailors on the U.S.S. West Virginia in the attack that morning. For his efforts, he received a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.

Bennion was an acclaimed hero. Many of you are, as well. Every soldier and the families involved, whether they have a medal or a decoration or not, are worthy of praise.

I was pleased to pledge allegiance to the American flag on this Pearl Harbor Day.

Thanks, Dad. And you, Coach Carlock. And you, too, Mr. Colley. This is a special salute to every American military person who made today possible.

 Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

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