Stanley Swiontek played the clarinet, and it might have cost him his life.
The Chicagoan was a cook on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor which, like many ships, had a band. On Dec. 6, 1941, there was a contest, and the Arizona band came in second, earning Swiontek the right to sleep in on Sunday morning.
So when the Japanese surprise attack came, and a bomb hit the Arizona, sinking the battleship in nine minutes, Swiontek, instead of being at work and perhaps safe, was in his bunk, deep below decks.
Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered. Five out of six sailors aboard the Arizona died that day. Swiontek’s family never learned what happened to their Stanley. His body was never recovered — it is still entombed with 947 shipmates aboard the sunken Arizona, now a national shrine.
Franklin D. Roosevelt famously dubbed Dec. 7 "a day which will live in infamy." And it has. But 75 years is a long time. Even infamy fades. The remaining Pearl Harbor survivors — a few thousand — are in their 90s. The smallest child to hear the shock of that Sunday afternoon radio bulletin is at least 80 now.
Which is not to say that subsequent generations are untouched. For the families of those affected, the attack and the 2,403 American lives it cost resonate still, a lingering echo of love and loss.
Begin with parents like Swiontek's mother Victoria, a Polish immigrant, who saved every letter Stanley wrote home, in cursive.
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