Friday, December 07, 2012

Remembering the date that will live in infamy

Today marks 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II. Whenever December 7 rolls around, I think of my old friend Dick Ferguson, who survived that attack and did his best for much of his life to make sure that others learned about the importance of that date to American history.

Reprinted below is a post I wrote about Dick Ferguson November 8, 2008, shortly after his death and have repeated each year on December 7:

One of the first interviews I did after hiring on as a general assignment reporter at The Carthage Press in April 1990 was for a feature on the retirement of Dick Ferguson from his position as president at Financial Federal Savings and Loan.

Much of that story was based on the things he planned to do during his retirement. Turns out he was a bit premature. Richard Frazer Ferguson never reached a traditional retirement. In the 18 years since his "retirement," he kept working in one capacity or another right up until almost the time of his death Friday at age 88.

Dick Ferguson always put his community first as he proved when he stepped in two times after that initial retirement date to serve as interim director of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. He also worked part-time for the Chamber for several years.

When Liberty Group Publishing ended my newspaper career in May 1999, one of the first people to contact me was Dick Ferguson, who sent me a much-appreciated card, saying he had noticed my name was no longer on the masthead and he wished me well in whatever I decided to do next. Having heard a few rumors about my departure not being voluntary, he added a postscript saying he thought The Press had made a mistake.

During my nine years at The Press, I had either interviewed Dick or had one of my reporters do so each year when Dec. 7 came around. Dick Ferguson was stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, "the day that will live in infamy," and over the next 66-plus years, he did his best to keep the memories of that day alive, attending reunions and speaking to school groups.

After I left The Press, I was one of those teachers who called Dick and asked if he could speak to my writing classes at Diamond Middle School. He spent the afternoon at the school and enthralled my students with his tales on Pearl Harbor and World War II.

After he spoke to one of my eighth grade classes, he asked if the students had any questions. A girl in the back row, raised her hand and said, "Mr. Ferguson, your stories are so interesting. Who won that war?"

Naturally, I was mortified both for the girl and for Dick, since it appeared that one of my students was not aware of the results of the sacrifices he and his fellow servicemen had made to keep America safe.

My horror grew as another student chipped in and said, "I'd like to know, too, Mr. Ferguson. Who won the war?"

Thankfully, most of the students seemed to know the U. S. and the Allies won World War II. The two students' reaction did not faze Dick in the slightest. He calmly and politely answered their questions.

When the final bell rang at 3 p.m., I walked Dick out to his car and apologized to him for the two students. He laughed it off and said, "Don't worry about it. That happens almost everywhere I go."

That was why it was so important for Dick Ferguson and others like him to make sure the memories of those days were kept alive. Dick did that, not just through his countless presentations for schools and civic groups, but also through his writing.

His book, "Look Back Once More," focusing on his memories of Pearl Harbor, remains to help make the past accessible to future generations.

A world without Dick Ferguson is hard to contemplate, but it seems fitting that he was called home just in time for Veterans Day.

1 comment:

Rick Nichols said...

Actually, this is the 71st anniversary of the attack. Just helping you with your math a little. Anyway, the remembrance is much appreciated!