75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor: Survivors gather to remember the moment that changed the world
HONOLULU — A moment of silence marked the moment that changed the world.
Just before 8 a.m., at the same time the first Japanese planes launched the surprise attack 75 years ago, Pearl Harbor fell silent.
Seventy-five years after Japanese forces struck the heart of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet in a fiery ambush, thousands of veterans, military officials, dignitaries and a dwindling number of survivors had gathered to remember the loss of life and the fight that drew the United States into World War II.
The Navy and the National Park Service held a ceremony both solemn and stirring on the shores of Pearl Harbor, within view of the USS Arizona Memorial.
There, at the watery memorial, the remains of two sailors who survived the attack and the war will be interred later in the day.
In the harbor, the USS Halsey, a guided missile destroyer, sounded its whistle and glided through the water, its crew at attention on the deck.
Later, the Halsey would sail past the USS Arizona Memorial and the ship's wreckage and salute the fallen battleship, a custom for ships at Pearl.
Donald Stratton, a USS Arizona survivor, returned the salute on behalf of his shipmates and the other veterans of the attack.
F-22 fighters from the 199th Fighter Squadron flew a missing-man formation over the harbor.
Among the overflow crowd were the governors of Hawaii, David Ige, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who was to lay a wreath on the Arizona memorial later in the day.
On Kilo Pier near the memorial, Pearl Harbor veterans and their families had gathered before the event. Some of the survivors were in their seats before 6 a.m., answering an early morning call as they did 75 years earlier.
Three USS Arizona survivors sat on the front row. 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 survivors 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.
A fourth Arizona survivor, Ken Potts, made the trip, but fell ill and could not attend Wednesday's memorial.
The fifth of the five Arizona survivors, Lonnie Cook, did not travel to Hawaii.
Pearl Harbor survivors filled several rows at the front of a covered area on the pier. They told their stories to reporters and shook hands with people, accepting thanks for their service.
A milestone year for anniversary
This Pearl Harbor Day holds greater significance, for its milestone year — the 75th anniversary — and because it may be the last time many survivors return for such an observance. Most veterans of the attack are in their mid-90s and fewer attend memorial services as each year passes.
President Barack Obama did not attend the ceremonies Wednesday, but will return to Hawaii after Christmas and meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for another historic moment. No sitting Japanese leader has visited Pearl Harbor in the 75 years since the attack.
The early morning attack killed 2,403 Americans. Nearly half the casualties occurred 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 Franklin Roosevelt delivered a speech on the defining moment, when he described the attack as “a date which will live in infamy,” propelled a nation into war.
The Arizona, which had never fired its big guns at an enemy in battle, emerged as a potent symbol for a wartime America.
Many of the survivors did not return to Pearl Harbor for years after the attack, but annual observances have drawn some of them back year after year in recent decades.
Remains of crewmen to be interred
In Wednesday morning's events, 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.
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, one of the 1,177 crewmen killed on the ship.
On their first day on Oahu, the four Arizona survivors attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the "punchbowl" cemetery in a natural crater formation on the island, where a number of unknown Arizona crewmen are buried.
Most of the ceremonies and memorials took place at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which preserves the sunken ships and parts of the historic military bases.
“Nothing is more important to us here at the monument than commemorating the lives of those who served and sacrificed on December 7, 1941,” said Jacqueline Ashwell, the monument superintendent.