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We all remember the legend of Pearl Harbor, the surprise attack on America on December 7, 1941 “a date that will live in infamy” by the Japanese fleet that triggered U.S. entry into WWII. But more misty in time was the sinking of the RMH Lusitania by a torpedo from a German submarine, on May 7th, 1915.More than 1100 people were lost in that sinking, including 120 Americans. The mighty Lusitania, queen of the British Cunard fleet, and holder of the Blue Riband (fastest to cross the Atlantic), went down in just 15 minutes, not far off the coastal town of Cobh, Ireland (near Cork). Many bodies, and survivors, were brought ashore at Cobh, and some were buried there. While WWI had began the year before, and it would be two years more before the U.S. would enter the war, the sinking of the Lusitania was the trigger that brought public opinion in the U.S. and Europe firmly against the Germans.
We happened into Cobh a couple weeks ago, on May 7th, 2015, by happenstance, and came to be witness to the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of her sinking. As we stood at the entrance to the Titanic exhibit at the pier where the last passengers boarded her on her fatal first Atlantic crossing, a crowd formed in front of us, and a cordon of Irish sailors assembled. Soon a motorcade pulled up and the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins (a poet and scholar known as the old leprechaun) got out and inspected the sailors and laid a wreath at the monument in the town square to those lost on the Lusitania.. He next moved to a seaside pavilion, where speeches were given by him and the ambassadors of Great Britain, the U.S. and Germany, as a form of remembrance and reconciliation. The President of Cunard also spoke. Then, at exactly the minute the German torpedo hit the Lusitania 100 years before, all the mighty horns of the gigantic new Cunarder docked nearby, the Queen Victoria, sounded, and the band struck up.playing Navy hymns. There was not a dry eye to be found. My own Vicki, our friend Lydia and I lunched at the hotel across from the pier, where Lusitania survivors had once been brought, then moved on with our driving trip through Ireland.
It was a moment of history, and a somber cautionary reminder (World Trade Center) of the fearsome triggers that can bring a nation to war.