Be vigilant, vet reminds us

A Seneca County veteran believes Americans should take the time to remember and reflect on the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the attack on the naval base on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

Tiffin City Councilman and Army veteran Jim Roberts said people never should forget Dec. 7, 1941.

“One thing people should learn from it, we can never let our guard down. We always need to be vigilant,” he said. “Those who forget their past, have no future.”

Roberts, who was 5 at the time of the attack, said people learned about the attack through radio broadcasts, newspapers and news reels at the theater.

He said reels after the attack were scary.

“Our parents tried to protect us. They tried to keep you occupied,” he said.

Roberts said his sister Joyce was in high school at the time and she and other community members wrote letters to soldiers during World War II.

He said everyone in the community contributed to the war effort. His contribution came when he and his friends used his red wagon to collect scrap metal to be used for weapons and equipment for soldiers.

Roberts said a scrap drive was held at Noble Elementary School. He said he was upset when someone threw his wagon into the pile along with the scrap he had collected.

“I had tears streaming down my face,” he said. “I remember someone saying to me, ‘What’s the matter, kid, aren’t you patriotic?'”

Roberts said everyone had to make sacrifices.

“It’s the number of people involved with it, just about every family was affected,” he said. “I don’t see how people came back from World War II and they just moved on with their lives and raised families. The sacrifice is amazing.”

Roberts said it is important to remember and honor those sacrifices.

“It wasn’t just the military,” he said. “It was everyone.”

Roberts spent 16 months of his Army career deployed in Japan.

“Back when the draft was in place, you didn’t have much choice. You were going if you were healthy,” he said.

When Roberts was 21, he joined the Army and became a Russian linguist. In 1960, he was stationed in northern Japan, where he monitored Soviet Union activity through radios.

“No one was supposed to know what we did, but we had about 500 antennas,” he joked.

When Roberts returned to the U.S., he became a dispatcher for Seneca County Sheriff’s Office before serving as sheriff from the late 1960s to the late 1970s.

“I always seemed to wear a uniform,” he said.

After his time as sheriff, he worked for a Japanese company in Findlay.

Roberts said someone asked him how he was able to work with Japanese people after the attack and after the war.

“Not a single one was alive during World War II,” he said. “I don’t want to be blamed for the Civil War or slavery, so I shouldn’t blame them for the war.”

Roberts said the Japanese he worked with were kind and polite. He said they told him they did not learn much about World War II growing up in Japan.

He took a few young Japanese men to Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton and he said he was fascinated by how they were interested in learning about what happened.

Roberts said they didn’t learn about the war in their home country because it was considered a loss or a disgrace.

“It’s a part of history, which you can’t change,” he said.

Roberts said Pearl Harbor was the worst attack in American history, but he compared it to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City.

“With Pearl Harbor, we had an enemy we could identify,” he said. “With 9/11, it was difficult to identify the enemy.”

Roberts said people never should forget Pearl Harbor, but they should not hold vengeance in their hearts for Japan.

“People are good, I don’t care where you go,” he said. “It’s the governments that are bad.”

Roberts said if people forget about the past, history can repeat itself.

“I think that’s why you have to be vigilant. We can’t let our guard down,” he said.