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A gathering at Pearl Harbor fell silent to honor those that died on December 7, 1941. USA TODAY NETWORK

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HONOLULU — A moment of silence descended over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time Wednesday, marking 75 years to the minute when the first Japanese war planes filled the skies Dec. 7, 1941, to lay waste to the Navy’s Pacific fleet and usher the United States into World War II.

The USS Halsey sounded its whistle to signal the solemn moment as thousands of Pearl Harbor veterans, their families and other dignitaries bowed their heads. The minute of silence was broken by four F-22 fighter jets flying overhead through clear blue skies in a "missing man formation" in honor of those who died.

Some of the Pearl Harbor survivors were in their seats at Kilo Pier before 6 a.m., answering an early morning call as they did 75 years earlier.

On the front row were three Navy veterans — shipmates on the USS Arizona that fateful morning when a Japanese bomb crippled and sunk the mighty battleship. They were among 335 survivors from a crew of 2,512.

The trio — Lauren Bruner, Donald Stratton and Lou Conter — shook hands and signed autographs, surrounded by people eager to meet them.

"It's been some long days," said Stratton, whose son and granddaughter helped raise the money to bring Stratton and three other Arizona shipmates to Hawaii.

Conter, dressed in Navy whites and a red lei, smiled widely as people asked for his autograph and posed for pictures with him.

"We hardly have time to breathe," he said. "They have us busy."

He turned to a Boy Scout who wanted a picture with him and chatted for a moment.

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A fourth Arizona survivor made the trip, but fell ill and could not attend Wednesday's memorial. The fifth of the remaining Arizona survivors, Lonnie Cook, did not travel to Hawaii.

Two years ago, when nine survivors remained, four of them met on the Arizona memorial for a final champagne toast to their fallen shipmates.

Jim Downing, who came from Colorado Springs, Colo., to mark the 75th anniversary of the attack that left more than 2,300 service people dead, served on the USS West Virginia, which lost 106 men.

Downing, 103, says he spent two hours fighting fires and checking the name tags of the dead so he could write their families personal notes about how they died.

He summed up his vivid impressions of that fateful day: Surprise, fear, anger and pride.

President Obama in Washington issued a statement Wednesday saying he and first lady Michelle Obama join Americans in “remembering those who gave their lives” on Dec. 7, 1941. "We can never repay the profound debt of gratitude we owe to those who served on our behalf," he said.

The president said he will visit the USS Arizona Memorial later this month with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who will become the first Japanese leader to visit the site of the battle.

Some of Wednesday’s events will be private, including one of the most poignant. At 4 p.m., the remains of two Arizona crewmen who survived the attack will be interred in the wreckage of their former ship.

John Anderson, who died in November  2015, and Clarendon Hetrick, who died in April, will be recognized for their service in a ceremony aboard the USS Arizona Memorial. Divers will take their cremated remains beneath the water’s surface and place them inside the barbette of gun turret four.

The honor is accorded sailors and Marines who were assigned to the Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. Since 1982, when the practice began, 39 crew members have been interred in the ship.

A third crewman, Raymond Haerry, died in September and will be interred in the ship next year.

For Anderson’s family, the moment will be especially meaningful: His twin brother, Delbert “Jake” Anderson, died aboard the Arizona in the attack.

Nearly half the casualties occurred that day on the USS Arizona, where 1,177 of the 2,512-man crew perished. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, 188 American aircraft were destroyed and nearly as many were damaged.

The Japanese launched the attack from six aircraft carriers, dispatching fighters and bombers in two waves. The Americans were caught unprepared to fight back in force. The Arizona sunk 14 minutes after the attack began and many U.S. aircraft never took off from the bases.

The day after the attack, President Roosevelt addressed Congress and the nation, calling Dec. 7, 1941,  “a date which will live in infamy.”

The Arizona, which had never fired its big guns at an enemy in battle, emerged as a potent symbol for a wartime America.

Admiral Harry B. Harris, the commander of the Navy's Pacific Command, delivered rousing remarks that had the crowd on its feet several times. He praised the patriotism of the veterans and their courage in fighting through the war.

"We're inspired by their great gift to the world, the gift of freedom itself," he said. "A free nation cannot survive without those who are willing to place service to country in front of service to self."

He drew some of the loudest cheers and a standing ovation with a nod to the Navy band's rendition of the national anthem and a reference to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, though he didn't mention the player by name.

"You can bet the men here today who were here 75 years ago and fought in World War II never took a knee and never failed to stand when they heard our national anthem being played," Harris said.

He used lyrics from the anthem as threads through the first part of his remarks.

Harris talked about the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, "a morning not unlike this when people not unlike us were getting ready for another day in paradise."

Some of The survivors in the front rows, he said, were preparing for time ashore, unaware they would soon find themselves at war.  "No one knew it would be the last moment of peace for nearly four years."
At the end of the memorial, wreaths were presented in honor of the Hawaii territory and the five branches of the military.

McKinnon is a reporter for the Arizona Republic. Stanglin reported from McLean, Va.

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