This is ultimately what looking closer at history teaches us: We are all bound to be surprised.
Two thousand, four hundred and three Americans died on Dec. 7, 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Any history student since that day might have read such a sentence, a mere speck of information in the numbing and unrelenting narrative of war and politics.
Thankfully, we have someone like Sisco Deen around. He’s the curator at the Flagler County Historical Society, doing the painstaking work of preserving history and helping us to look closer and hopefully to put a face to a number like 2,403.
The face that is perhaps most relevant to residents of Flagler County is James Brazier Booe, chief petty officer and band director on the U.S.S. Oklahoma. He was on the deck, preparing his band, when the bombs were dropped. As Deen wrote about the event, “The surprise was complete.”
Deen recounts the story of how Booe (pronounced like the word, “buoy”) and his family moved from Indiana to Flagler County in 1913, four years before the county was even given the name “Flagler.” Booe joined the Navy in 1919 and, thanks to his talent with music, became a band director some years later.
I find myself captivated not only by the photo of Booe taken on the Oklahoma, but also by a photo from 1922, in which Booe is marching in a parade in New Orleans, dressed in a white suit and sailor’s hat, just one man in a sea of trombone players, far from Flagler County, and even farther from Pearl Harbor. At that time, there was no hint of World War II. As we read the history books, these events all seem inevitable, but the young Booe could not have known where he was headed.
This is ultimately what looking closer at history teaches us: We are all bound to be surprised. We don’t know where we are headed. But hopefully we all feel more connected when we remember someone like James Brazier Booe, who died in our service at Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago.