United States military veterans and officials commemorated the 78th anniversary of the 1941 Japanese attack on the Hawaiian naval base, Pearl Harbour on Saturday December 7th, Reuters reported.
A ceremony was held within sight of the sunken USS Arizona, which was bombed in the opening moments of the attack which killed more than 2,400 Americans. The ceremony was held to honour both survivors and those who perished when Japanese planes rained bombs on battleships lined up in the Hawaii naval base. The attack led to the formal entry of the US into World War II (WWII) the next day.
The event was attended by 30 WWII veterans, some 2,000 members of the public, US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Washington's ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris.
A moment of silence was held at 07:55 am (17:55 GMT), the exact time the assault began. US Air Force F-22 fighter jets flying overhead in missing man formation broke the quiet.
“It makes you think of all the servicemen who have passed ahead of me,” said Herb Elfring, 97, of Jackson, Michigan. He is the last man of his old regiment who is still alive.
Elfring was in the army, assigned to the 251st Coast Artillery, part of the California National Guard. The job of the unit was to protect airfields, but they were not expecting an attack that morning.
“I could hear it coming but didn’t pay attention to it until the strafing bullets were hitting the pavement about 15 feet away from me,” he said.
Retired navy admiral Harry Harris, currently the US ambassador to South Korea, said it was difficult to imagine the events of 78 years ago when people “not unlike us” were waking up to enjoy another day in paradise.
“It was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism even as it was a day of sacrifice and immeasurable loss,” Harris said.
The WWII generation, he said, had played a pivotal role in underwriting the freedoms the US enjoys today. “Every December 7th, we remember the past actions of our veterans on Oahu (island in Hawaii) because they inspire us today and because they shape our tomorrows,” he said.
Three USS Arizona survivors are still alive, and Lou Conter, 98, was the only one who attended Saturday’s ceremony.
Conter was sick last year and could not attend. He said he likes to come to remember those who lost their lives.
"I always come out to pay respect for the 2,403 men that were killed that day, including 1,177 of my shipmates on the Arizona," Conter said.
Later in the day, the remains of Lauren Bruner, who died in September aged 98 and was among the last sailors to be rescued, were interred in the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona alongside fellow sailors, according to his wishes.
Pearl Harbour National Memorial spokesperson Jay Blount said: "This is the last surviving crewman of the USS Arizona being returned to his ship and his shipmates."
Bruner will be the 44th USS Arizona survivor interred on the ship. The remaining three living sailors who survived the attack will be laid to rest with their families.
Fewer than 200 survivors of the attacks on Pearl Harbour and on other military bases in Hawaii were alive in 2016. About 294 died each day in 2018, on average, and approximately 10% live in California, the highest number of any state. In 2019, there are about 390,000 WWII veterans alive of the more than 16 million that served, according to Veterans Affairs statistics.
On December 7th, 1941, Japanese forces attacked with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes, bombing the US fleet moored there as a preventive action to keep the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia and from entering the war.
A total of 1,177 sailors and US Marines on board the battleship USS Arizona, which sank early in the attack, were killed and more than 900 could not be recovered from the ship, according to the National Park Service.
The attack led to the US entering WWII and the eventual defeat of Japan in August 1945, days after US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
At the time, President Franklin D Roosevelt described the surprise attack on the US navy base near Honolulu as "a date which will live in infamy." Because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbour was later judged in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (IMTFE) to be a war crime.
Saturday's ceremony took place three days after two deadly shootings at navy bases, one at the Pearl Harbour naval shipyard and another at naval air station Pensacola in Florida.