Tuesday, March 23, 1999

wants Dec. 7 a
national holiday

Many WWII veterans support
honoring the infamous day Japan
attacked America at Pearl Harbor

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- Not content with the USS Arizona Memorial or the solemn tributes offered every Dec. 7, a Republican congressman from upstate New York wants to designate Pearl Harbor Day as a national holiday.

"Pearl Harbor marks one of the most significant dates in American history," said Rep. Jack Quinn of Buffalo. "It put the U.S. into World War II and, as a result of America's involvement in the war, it established our country as a dominant world power."

Quinn, chairman of the veterans' benefits subcommittee of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the idea for the holiday came from veterans in his district.

But not all veterans in Hawaii were convinced.

Some, like Walter Lassen of Maui, who served on the USS Missouri during World War II, lauded the idea.

"I've wondered why they didn't make it a national holiday before," said Lassen. "That was the start of it all."

But others, like Jim Pitton, executive director of the Honolulu Council Navy League, said Pearl Harbor Day already is a solemn, emotional day in Hawaii. Making it a national holiday, he said, was unlikely to convince people of the day's significance.

"It's like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. They're not what we want them to be in terms of national days of mourning or remembrance," said Pitton. "They're just a day off for everybody. They're just holidays."

The proposal is new and organizations have yet to take an official position, but a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars said that organization would back it wholeheartedly.

"Any congressman or senator who wanted to make Pearl Harbor Day a national holiday would definitely get our support," said Alex Harrington.

Reaction from the Hawaii congressional delegation was either silence or lukewarm caution.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said Pearl Harbor Day is an especially solemn, respectful day, and Congress should proceed carefully before naming it a national holiday, with all the attendant hoopla that would entail.

Akaka said he would wait until a bill is proposed in the Senate before taking a position.

One delegation aide noted that public figures in Hawaii, with its close ties to Japan, are traditionally leery of such proposals, which could be taken as anti-Japanese.

The proposal also is being criticized as creating another costly holiday.

Quinn's bill has been referred to the House Committee on Government Reform. A spokeswoman said the next step is to take the proposal to national veterans' groups and have them help push it through Congress.

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