Today, under a bright and sunny Hawaii sky more than 5000 people attended the 70th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Commemoration to recognize 120 survivors of the “day of infamy,” December 7, 1941. They were easy to identify: Most wore a hat with the word “survivor” embroidered across it.
Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus spoke. "The history of December 7, 1941 is indelibly imprinted on the memory of every American who was alive that day. But it bears repeating on every anniversary so that every substantive generation will know what happened here and will never forget."
You probably know the basic story:
On that day, a Sunday, at 7:55 a.m., 183 Japanese planes “emblazoned with red disks” attacked without warning. They came from the north and swept around the west side of the island. Dive-bombers and fighters strafed Wheeler Army Airfield. Torpedo bombers reached Pearl Harbor a few minutes later. Fighters raked rows of parked aircraft at Ewa and Bellows airfields and Kaneohe Naval Air Station. Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 167 dive-bombers, high-level bombers and fighters came sweeping around the east side of the island.
"Although the attack surprised our forces," Mabus said. "They immediately started fighting back. You know the stories. The steward aboard the USS Shaw with no training, manning a gun and bringing down a Japanese aircraft. The machinist, blinded by explosives, but rescuing sailors caught below decks of the Nevada. The Air Force lieutenant, still in his pajamas, piloting an P-36 and shooting down another Japanese plane."
Today, at 7:55 a.m., F-22s flew overhead in the “missing man” formation, making my bones rattle and my eyes tear. The faintest of sun showers misted a blessing. Inland, a rainbow arc over a valley drizzled with clouds.
When the attack ended two hours later, 2,390 people were dead and 1,178 wounded. Of the eight battleships in the harbor, five were sunk. In all, 21 vessels were sunk or heavily damaged. The attackers destroyed 164 aircraft and damaged 159.
"It was in President Franklin Roosevelt's searing and unforgettable declaration," Mabus said, "A day that will live in infamy, pushing us into a world war that would change both the world and warfare irrevocably."
Today, two hours later, 120 survivors, plus 15 more World War II veterans, and their family traversed the “walk of honor,” flanked by a tunnel of active men and women in the military standing at salute. Civilians and guests gave these survivors repeated standing ovations, they shook their hands, thanked them for their service, offered them their seats, requested their photos, gave them a bump in any lines and, all in all, treated these war veterans like heroes. The survivors even rode in a parade down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki later in the evening.
"The shock and the anger unleashed that morning here in Hawaii united our nation and steeled our will not just to respond but to overcome. As a former service officer and as Secretary of Navy," Mabus said. "It's a profound privilege to offer the heartfelt thanks of a nation to these individuals here today who survived and, then, who thrived, leading the way for our nation to survive that day and, then, to thrive in the seven decades since. We rightly honor every one of our veterans but there will always be a special place in our hearts for those who began the fight here at Pearl harbor that led us to victory. You, the survivors, as well as those who were lost, earned with your blood and with your sacrifice a legacy for those who have followed you. Your legacy is leadership and heroism. I hope and I believe that we serving today are living up to your example, working to ensure that your legacy is sustained. To the survivors here today, and to those who are with us in spirit and memory, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to honor your heroism. We must never forget. We must never fail as you did not fail to meet and defeat any challenge to America and what America stands for."