Remembering Pearl Harbor and Joe Goveia

By WILLIAM F. NIXON, Chief Executive Officer, Willwork Global Event Services

(Header image: Aerial view of the Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial; image credit: Hawaii Island Experiences, Pearl Harbor Tours Oahu)

This past September, I paid my respects at a wake for the mother of a childhood friend of mine.

Dorothy “Dot” Gouveia was 93 years old when she died after a short illness.  Ms. Gouveia lived a long life, and a good life.  The former Dot Brewster grew up in Norwell, MA. In 1948, she married Joseph “Joe” Gouveia and moved to his hometown of Easton, MA, where the two made a life together.

The couple brought up six children, one of whom, Jason, was the childhood pal I mentioned.  Jason and I were in the same graduating class from Oliver Ames High School, a public school in Easton. 

Dot and Joe Gouveia had been married 59 years when Mr. Gouveia died in 2007.

I had the good fortune of knowing Mr. and Mrs. Gouveia.  Kind and nice people. 

It must have been in grade school when I first heard that Jason’s dad had been at the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in the American territory of Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941 when the Empire of Japan attacked the heart of the U.S. Pacific naval fleet stationed there.

Joe Gouveia was a radio operator on the USS California, a battleship, when the attack commenced at 7:55 (Hawaiian time).

Joseph Goveia, United States Navy

We learned in school that what happened at Pearl Harbor was devastating.  Yet when you are kid growing up in the peace and prosperity of the society in which I lived, it is difficult to even begin to understand the enormity of the death and suffering that resulted from the attack:  2,403 Americans killed, 1,178 Americans wounded.

Among the 2,403 killed were twelve of Joe Gouveia’s fellow radio operators, all of whom were also his friends.

The attack destroyed and temporarily paralyzed a considerable portion of the ships America needed to effectively defend itself in the Pacific.  Offensive capabilities were wiped out. 

But the spirit of Americans and the ability of its industry and agriculture to fight back … and to triumph … were very much intact.

We are not sure whether or not, in the immediate wake of the attack, which was coincident with Japan making successful assaults and invasions throughout a large swatch of the Pacific, if Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.  And filled him with a terrible resolve.”

It is known, though, that in the run-up to and planning for Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto – who fully believed taking on the United States was a mistake, and ultimately would be self-defeating – said to ministers of the Cabinet of Japan: “In the first six to 12 months of war with the United States and Great Britain, I will run wild and win victory after victory.  But, then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.”

Admiral Yamamoto knew America.  He spent a lot of time in our country during the 1920s. Some of that time was as a student at Harvard University.

Admiral Yamamoto was also prescient.

Seven months after Pearl Harbor, the United States decisively crushed Japan in the Battle of Midway, which took place over two days in the north Pacific Ocean. 

After the Battle of Midway, the U.S. stayed on the offensive in the Pacific theater for the remainder of World War II.

A while back, I read how not long after the war, Japanese youth would visit and tour America. 

I read how when these young people returned to Japan, after experiencing the vastness of this country, its big and powerful and busy manufacturing plants, its vegetable and grain fields stretching to the horizon, its economic opportunity, and the character of its citizens, they would ask of their elders: “What were you thinking?”

What Admiral Yamamoto had learned as a young man while in the United States is what those young Japanese learned.

Bricks at Veterans Memorial Park (Easton, MA) dedicated to the memory of Joe Goveia and the 12 of his fellow radio operators and friends lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor

Much of what they came to know about America is what of Willwork Global Event Services has frequently, in this space, noted, and for which we have said thank you.

And in operating a company that works in cities, towns, villages, and hamlets throughout this great land, we have the good fortune of knowing and benefiting first-hand from American exceptionalism.

Of course, the good and enduring fortune of America – of this republic which is in the process of fulfilling its promise – was founded and protected, and is sustained, by the men and women who served and are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Our republic owes much of itis strength and limitless potential to good and noble people like Joe Goveia who answered the call and stood on a wall defending liberty and a free society.

I think that the fires of Pearl Harbor were never that far removed from the thoughts of Joe Gouveia.

When designing the house in which he and Dot brought up their children, he made sure that the bedrooms of all the kids provided for a short drop to the ground from their bedroom windows, which would secure the children’s safety in the event of a fire.

And, while it is smart for all families to hold fire drills, the Gouveia family held their drills on a far more frequent basis than did other families in town.

It is always wholly right and appropriate that every day we express gratitude for service and sacrifice that guarantees freedom and human rights.

Yet, for sure, we are permitted to consider anniversaries such as that which falls on today as occasion for special and especially intense contemplation on and about those who served, died, suffered, and continue to suffer to keep America free and safe.

May we always remember them.

And may we always strive to live our lives in a way that honors them.

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