We will never forget. But we will, in time. It’s a slow but steady process. For 80 years now, awareness of the attack on Pearl Harbor has been slowly fading into the twilight of our collective national memory. The old survivors and first-hand witnesses are almost gone now, replaced by second-hand stories and what the historians tell us. On a practical level–for lack of time, money, and interest–communities all across America have quietly stopped commemorating Pearl Harbor Day.
After John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963–another shocking national tragedy just two decades after Pearl Harbor–communities all across the nation memorialized our 35th president by renaming streets, schools, and bridges in his honor. Kennedy Boulevard in Aliquippa is a local example. And so is the bridge over the Beaver River between Eastvale and Beaver Falls; it was once proclaimed with a huge banner, and then years later marked with a much smaller placard as the “John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge.” Now the bridge is known by PennDot as bridge ID040588800800095, and to rest of us it’s just the “Eastvale Bridge.”
We will never forget our national tragedies. It’s self-comforting to say, but in reality it’s an aspirational platitude. We do and will forget the details of history, anyway, the substance. Remember the Alamo or the Maine? Huzzah! How about the Johnstown Flood? Do we remember the day the music died? Kinda, maybe . . . let’s ask Google.
But renaming things like roadways, schools, and bridges sure helps us not to forget things like national tragedies. Public art as memorials or commemorative sites in our communities are also powerful ways we remind ourselves to honor these important events, such as the September 11th attack on our nation.
Do we have any public art or memorials in Beaver County dedicated to 9/11? While we think about that, let’s turn to Butler County. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11 we featured the Cranberry Fire Department’s memorial–a small but powerful example of how public can be used to frame and engage our national collective memory.