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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For years, he thought about doing something, saying something to remind people of the enormity of what happened 78 years ago this month when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the lives of more than 2,300 sailors and Marines were lost along with America’s hope that it could sit by while the world burned.
Too many people had forgotten what had transpired Dec. 7, 1941, he believed. Too many did not understand that when the Japanese launched a sneak attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii they also launched the country into World War II.
“I thought, World War II was without a doubt the most major event of the 20th century, and what was the catalyst? Pearl Harbor,” said Louis Gioia, longtime car salesman, Army veteran and history buff. “We declared war on Japan, and days later Germany declared war on us, and then we were in it.”
So this spring, Gioia finally did something to remind people about Pearl Harbor’s significance.
He wrote a poem.
Gioia had never written one. He played music, but he rarely played around with words and rhymes.
“Let’s just say I’m not a threat to Robert Frost or Lord Byron,” he said with a laugh.
But he wrote it anyway.
He called his poem “Remembrance …” and had it printed on sturdy, glossy poster paper, his words etched across the image of the USS Arizona torn apart in clouds of smoke and shrapnel.
“It was just the crack of dawn,” the poem begins. “A Pacific Sunday morn in December 1941 under blue Hawaiian sky – who would ever think they’d die or they’d never see the morning sun.”
He gave copies to friends, co-workers and acquaintances. It was his way to pay tribute to those who died as a result of the war – the sailors and Marines at Pearl Harbor, the soldiers in the battlefields across the globe, the civilians in bombed-out cities, the prisoners in concentration camps.
But it was also his way of chastising a world that had forgotten, the generations not great enough to have remembered.
“It annoys me that this is not taught in school anymore,” he said. “I’m 74, too old, from another time when things mattered. This shouldn’t be archived away. I want my grandchildren and my grandchildren’s grandchildren to know about it.”
Then something amazing happened. Through word of mouth, he started getting requests from people for copies of his poem. He sent out three dozen, then four dozen, then five. People were remembering.
He estimates that this year he’s distributed about 150 copies, carefully packaged on his own dime.
A friend from his hometown on Long Island, New York, took the poem in August to Freeport, New York, where it was read during a ceremony welcoming the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen for their annual summer port of call and presented to the training commander, who took the poem back with him to the academy.
Copies of the poem were also sent to the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, New York, where a copy now hangs.
And so it went until, Gioia said, his poem is now in veterans hospitals, American Legion and VFW posts and other veteran-related facilities from Long Island to Los Lunas.
“It’s all over Albuquerque now, including the New Mexico Veterans Memorial,” said Gioia, who has lived in Rio Rancho since 1992.
His biggest honor came last week when the curatorial assistant from the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum notified him by email that the museum planned to display his poem.
“We love it!” the email said.
The poem is also expected to be displayed at the Kauai Veterans Center and the Pacific Historic Parks Bookstore at Pearl Harbor, according to emails he received this month.
All of which is a pretty amazing thing to a man who just wanted to remind others of a day that lives in infamy.
“To have my poem right there in Pearl Harbor, ground zero,” he said. “Well, I couldn’t be more proud.”
The youngest survivors of what happened that day in Pearl Harbor are in their 90s now. In time, they will not be here to tell their story.
But a Rio Rancho man with a way with words and rhymes is doing what he can to keep their story alive.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
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It was just the crack of dawn,A Pacific Sunday morn in December 1941
under blue Hawaiian sky – who would ever think they’d die
or they’d never see the morning sun
Some were sailors – in their teens
Some in tee shirts – some in jeans
Most were still quite sound asleep down in their bed;
But before the day was done
World War II had just begun
Still today it’s hard to say two thousand dead
Then the bombs began to blast and the ships were sinking fast
Some entombed beneath the burning twisted steel;
Then the word spread here at home
People crying on the phone
How could something such as this be so unreal
Yeah it seems so unfair so much sadness and despair
It’s a dark day for sure and still yet;
It’s a day we should revive
Keep the memory alive
It’s a day we simply just can not forget
Then the doorbell would ring …
And the news they would bring …
All the young boys who died
All the mothers who cried
Such a terrible thing
And the ships they’re still there …
And you can’t help but stare …
As you look down below
See the oil still flow
And you hope someone cares …
It was just the crack of dawn on a tragic Sunday morn!