HONOLULU - I had just returned from an emotional afternoon at Pearl Harbor when I heard the news -- Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy SEALs. Only a few moments before I had stood looking into the murky tomb that once was the USS Arizona and for 70 years has been the resting place of more than a thousand brave men.
And now the momentous news of the death of the world's greatest terrorist brought back the prophetic warning attributed to Japanese Fleet Admiral Yamamoto after he was told that the attack on the American fleet had come before a declaration of war could be delivered to Washington on December 7, 1941.
Most American school children know that quote about "waking a sleeping giant and filling it with a terrible resolve."
Now another who would test the mettle of America has found what that can cost. It has taken nearly 10 years to bring down the murderous tyrant who apparently thought he was immune from the long arm of justice, but in the end there was no escaping. The SEALs were swift, giving him a bare minute to surrender before carrying out the ultimate sentence.
It took far less time than the time it took to take down the Japanese admiral who actually had opposed the war with America where he had received some of his education and was acutely aware of this nation's potential for devastating retaliation. He was killed by American pilots flying P-38 Lightnings who ambushed his plane on April 18, 1943. And unlike bin Laden he was a brave soldier -- not a coward who hid in caves and let others carry out his dirty work. They say that bin Laden tried to shield himself behind a woman before he was shot between the eyes. Why should we not be surprised?
Like millions of Americans around the world, the word that this monster was found not in the mountains of Pakistan but in what was described as a mansion not far from Islamabad was as startling to me as the report of his death. But how and when were not really important only that this nation's honor had been restored in some part by a group of its finest defenders just as all those years ago Navy pilots six months later at the Battle of Midway destroyed four of the carriers from which the Japanese had launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Franklin Roosevelt promised then that we would persevere, just as two of his successors--George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- promised that bin Laden would pay the price for his infamy. Obama was able to claim the kill. But even with several thousand Americans cheering outside the White House despite the lateness of his announcement, he made it clear that this action was not taken against Muslims or their beliefs but at a criminal who all decent God-fearing men abhorred.
So it seemed not only ironic but actually fitting that I could hear this news at the sacred site of a tragic incident that happened when I was a boy. I pitched a flower in the still oily water above the Arizona and I now know that it was also a token of remembrance for all those innocents who died so tragically on September 11, 2001. We can only hope that their spirits rest better now.
E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.