Pearl Harbor

Survivors  are honored guests at 69th  Remembrance Ceremony

It was a beautiful warm sunny day on Tuesday, Dec. 7, as  about 100 Pearl Harbor survivors gathered with friends and guests to  observe the 69th anniversary of the attack on the Naval base.
This year was an extra special event because the observance  coincided with the National Park Service’s opening of its new $56 million  visitors center.  The Pearl Harbor historic site is operated jointly by the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy.
The survivors and their families and guests were seated with other World War II veterans in a special canopy-covered area directly in front of the speaker’s platform.  Special VIP passes were needed to sit under the canopy.
Hundreds of military personnel were everywhere in their dress uniforms and they represented all branches of service.  Being a Naval base, most of the service people were Navy personnel.
Acting as a backdrop behind the speaker’s platform, the sunken  remains of the battleship USS Arizona and the Arizona Memorial  were visible across the bay.
The program began with a remembrance of the events 69 years  earlier.
It was at 0755 in the morning of Dec. 7, when hundreds  of Japanese aircraft  attacked the Naval base at Pearl Harbor without warning.  The anchored fleet and airfields were caught completely by surprise.  When the attack was over about two hours later, 19 ships were  either sunk or heavily damaged and the casualties totaled 2,896, which included 2,117 deaths.   President Roosevelt in his address before  Congress urging war against Japan, called  Dec. 7  “….a day which shall live in infamy”.
As this year’s observance continued, at precisely 0755 a.m., the  Guided Missile Destroyer USS Chaffee, with her crew dressed in white  uniforms lining the rails, silently honored the USS Arizona Memorial as she passed by.
Also, at precisely 0755 a.m., as the USS Chaffee passed by the  Arizona Memorial,  a flight of four Air Force F-15 fighter jets streaked  overhead doing the “missing man” tribute.   The “missing man” tribute  is where four aircraft are lined abreast and the third one suddenly pulls  up and climbs as the three remaining aircraft fly straight ahead.  The
empty space signifies the remembrance of fallen comrades.
Jim Nabors, who is from Sylacauga and played “Gomer Pyle” on the Andy Griffith Show and now lives in Hawaii, sang the National Anthem.  Although suffering from cancer, his voice was sharp and clear.
The official ceremonies were concluded after all the speeches were  made by the playing of Taps.
Since this was also the grand opening of the new visitor center, the  Pearl Harbor survivors and the WW II veterans were the first to enter the new center.
They walked along the path leading to the center called the “Walk of Honor”.  Active duty enlisted personnel and officers stood together  shoulder to shoulder on each side of the path saluting each survivor and veteran who passed by.  It was a moving experience to see the aged
heroes walking the path smile, nod, or salute in response.
It must be remembered that these survivors and WW II veterans ranged in age from 88 to 96 years old. Many were using walkers, canes, scooters, or on the arms of family members or friends.
It was my privilege to have been present during this historic event. I was able to talk with about 20 of the survivors. I asked how old they were and what ship they were on during the attack.  The ages ranged from 18 to 22, and the ships varied from man to man. Most were on different sunken battleships and they were blown off them by exploding nearby bombs.
When I asked about what they remembered most about the attack, each one responded quickly that they think about their friends who didn’t survive.  Just talking about those shipmates who died brought tears to their eyes.

Sailors lined along path greeting a survivor

There was talk that this would be the last large commemoration  event since so many of the survivors are too old to travel and have  health issues.  But since next year is the 70th anniversary of the attack,  we will wait and see. I am sure a Survivor will show up and represent  those other heroes who couldn’t make it.
Americans will not forget what happened here because Congress has  passed a law proclaiming Dec. 7 as “National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day”. Having had the opportunity to be at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 is  an experience I will not forget.

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