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Pearl Harbor revisited during new special

Sunday, May 27, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

By the time you read this, thousands of people will have spent millions of dollars watching the dramatic film "Pearl Harbor" in movie theaters across the country. Tonight, television lets viewers hear from real-life survivors either on pay TV or for free on a broadcast network.

Airing at 8 on cable's National Geographic Channel (available on digital tiers for AT&T and Adelphia customers) and at 9 p.m. on NBC, "Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack" returns viewers to the "date which will live in infamy."

Part history lesson, part remembrance, part expedition, this informative, sometimes heart-rending two-hour special is hosted and narrated by NBC's Tom Brokaw. It includes an hour-by-hour explanation of the Japanese attack on America's naval fleet and a journey underwater with explorer Bob Ballard, who searches for a long-lost Japanese minisubmarine.

TV Preview
"Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack"
When: 8 tonight on National Geographic Channel; 9 tonight on NBC.
Host:Tom Brokaw.

"Legacy of Attack" deals with the racism that was ever present in the military at the time. It also shows the change in attitude toward the Japanese when a Japanese veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor joins with American veterans who survived the day to lay a wreath at the U.S.S. Arizona memorial.

For take-you-there recollections, nothing is more dramatic than the remembrances of now-elderly veterans who return to Pearl Harbor. Carl Carson was a 20-year-old seaman aboard the U.S.S. Arizona when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Carson was diagnosed with stomach cancer not long before "Legacy of Attack" was filmed last year. He came back to the site "to be a spokesman for my shipmates so they wouldn't be forgotten."

Carson speaks of the day of the attack, how he was doing chores on the deck of the Arizona one minute and was unconscious, with punctured lungs, the instant after the first strike on his ship. He recalled the moments after and how he tried to help a badly burned friend.

"The skin on his face and arms was hanging off, like a mask or something," Carson says. "I took hold of an arm and the skin came off in my hand. There was nothing in this world I could do for that boy and it's bothered me all my life."

Stories like the ones shared by Carson and other veterans, coupled with Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" and Brokaw's best-selling book "The Greatest Generation," have been big contributors to the revival of interest in World War II.

With the publication of Brokaw's third WWII book ("An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation"), the release of "Pearl Harbor" and the upcoming September telecast of HBO's "Band of Brothers," interest in that era continues to rise.

"I find as I move across the country, people are reexamining that time in a fresh way," Brokaw said in a phone interview earlier this month. "I do think the Pacific theater has been underrepresented in terms of the attention that's been visited upon D-Day and Europe. This show and other programs and other books will begin to raise the Pacific theater in the eyes of much of the country."

Brokaw said in studying WWII he was most surprised by how quickly the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the attitudes of Americans toward the war.

"What was stunning to me is how quickly the country turned in a political and almost moral sense from isolationist to interventionist," he said, "and how effective the country was turning into a war machine almost overnight."

Brokaw said the Japanese thought by attacking Pearl Harbor they could neutralize the United States and force the country into some sort of truce. The attack on Pearl Harbor had the opposite effect.

"What they did was enrage this country," Brokaw said. "It was a terrible miscalculation politically and militarily on their part."

Brokaw, born in 1940, spent his early years on an Army base in western South Dakota. It wasn't until he attended the 40th anniversary of D-Day for NBC in 1984 that he began thinking about that era again.

"It dawned on me what a debt we owe to all those people," he said.

Now people of all ages greet Brokaw on the street and want to share their stories or their parents' or grandparents' memories of WWII, which led him to publish the two follow-up books. But he doesn't see himself as Mr. Greatest Generation.

"I was the doorman saying, 'This way please, there are stories here for all of us to consider,'" Brokaw said. "It has made me reflect on my own life and how fortunate [my wife] Meredith and I are for the values we got from them, and not just the material gains from generation to generation, but all the other changes in our lives.

"They provided that foundation for us and never asked for anything in return. They were stoic in part because their earliest memories were formed by the Great Depression and then they were asked to go off and save the world, in effect."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Thursday, May 24, 2001

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