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Archives exhibit, event here help keep the memory of Pearl Harbo

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 5, 2012 - When 110-year-old Missouri native Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of the First World War, died this year in West Virginia, it marked the passing not just of a man but of a generation.

Bryan McGraw, director of the National Archives at St. Louis, worries that a similar fate is now sweeping those of the Greatest Generation as we approach the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"The folks who experienced it are passing with each day, and I'm afraid that it's passing just as World War I [did] into the annals of history," said McGraw.

Some of those annals will be up for discussion Tuesday evening as the Archives hosts a panel on the infamous surprise attack and its consequences. Moderated by local KSDK anchor Art Holliday, the event will explore various aspects of the bombing from the perspective of historians from Missouri universities.

The talk is part of the Archives' "Documented Rights" exhibit, which has been running since October when the institution's newly dedicated home in Spanish Lake was opened to the public. Drawn from 14 National Archives collection sites around the country, "Documented Rights" focuses on the struggles faced by immigrants, civil rights advocates and others who fought for the fruits of citizenship.

It has been highlighted by special monthly programs since its inception. October focused on the challenges women overcame to gain their rights, while last month highlighted the story of Native Americans.

"Basically, they tell the story of the struggle for equality and citizenship," said Wanda Williams, an archivist at the facility. "Among them, we have documents related to the Japanese internment, so we set out to do a lecture series that would pick up on subjects that are represented in the exhibit documents."

The internment will be discussed by Torrie Hester, an assistant professor of history at Saint Louis University. Hester, a scholar who has studied immigration, ethnicity, law and foreign policy from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, will discuss American immigration policy leading up to the bombing raid, which marked the United States' entry into World War II and began a dark chapter for tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry who would eventually be relocated to detention camps for the duration of the war.

"That's not something that as a nation today in 2011 we are very proud of," McGraw said. "In the context of what was happening at the time, it gives us a chance to understand some of the reasoning behind it, the fear and, in some ways, the paranoia about the Japanese."

Two other academics will be on the panel and will discuss other aspects of the time.

Deborah Cohen, a professor of history at UM-St. Louis, will look at the economic impact of the war on the nation. She is the author of a book on the Bracero Program, a series of diplomatic agreements with Mexico that allowed migrant workers into the U.S. during and after WW II. John C. McManus, a military historian at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, is author of several books on WW II topics from D-Day to the Ardennes and will speak about the response of the armed forces after Pearl Harbor.

"Between the three of them, I think we should really be able to have a clear understanding of the events of that infamous day as well as the events that happened leading up to and after that," McGraw said. "I think it will be a fascinating time and should be a lot of very good information for folks."

They can also see some history as well. The Archives will be displaying a number of personnel records salvaged from the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona, as well as the unique preservation work being done here in town to restore the documents for posterity.

Perhaps the most well-known of the ships to succumb to the assault on the harbor, the Arizona, where more than 1,100 sailors lost their lives, remains a national memorial in the Aloha State.

McGraw said turnout for previous monthly specials has been around three dozen.

"We expect more for this event just because of the subject matter," he said. "There tends to be more interest in it."

It's an interest he wants to encourage.

"We should never forget," he said. "We need to learn from the past and we need to be ready to educate future generations on these events so we don't make the same mistakes over again."

"Remembering Pearl Harbor: 70 Years Later" will take place at the new National Archives facility, 1 Archives Dr. off of Dunn Road near Hazelwood East High School, at 7 p.m. with a reception beginning at 6:30 p.m. Refreshments will be available and the event is free. The "Documented Rights" exhibit runs through April 15 in the same location from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Information can be found on the exhibit online at https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/documented-rights or by calling 314-801-0847.

David Baugher is a freelance writer.

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