URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – “Today, we would like to honor and remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives on December 7, 1941,” Lincoln’s Challenge Academy Director Maurice Rochelle said.

On that Sunday morning, the Japanese military attacked a United States naval base in Hawaii. Roughly 2,400 Americans died and 19 ships were damaged at Pearl Harbor.

“I wonder sometimes – where would we be if that Sunday morning had not occurred?” one speaker said at an observance event.

There was no turning back, and the United States entered World War II – a conflict that would eventually claim hundreds of thousands of American lives.

“It’s one thing to go into battle being prepared and ready for action. However, it’s another when we can be surprised as being attacked without warning,” Major General Gregory Worrell said.

That’s the reason for the American Legion posts 559 and 24’s annual observance. This year, Lincoln’s Challenge Academy cadets joined them.

“15, 16, 17, 18 years old – who may not have known anything about Pearl Harbor – now they have an idea of our history and what it means,” Rochelle said.

Rochelle said it’s important to teach younger generations not to take their freedom for granted.

“It was just the acknowledgement of the soldiers that had lost their lives. I thought it was very touching,” Cadet Angelica Lopez said.

John Marlin participated to honor WWII veterans like his father, who enlisted right after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“He was shot down in Okinawa and rescued by the Battleship Washington,” Marlin said. “My father went on, [and] was back in the air a few days later.”

He said there’s a lot we can still learn from the events of December 7, 1941.

“The fact that we had the bulk of our fleet sitting in one spot – that was vulnerable is a lesson that I think we’re starting to forget,” Marlin said. “After Pearl Harbor, the nation pulled together. That’s something else we need to learn again.”

But there’s another big reason they said it’s crucial to keep the tradition of remembrance alive.

“Our veterans are dying, slowly. Especially WWII. WWI is gone,” Rochelle said.

He’s asking you to acknowledge veterans in your daily life.

“Make sure you say hello. Buy them a cup of coffee. Shake their hand. Mention to them, ‘thank you for your sacrifice,’” he said.