PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) – A handful of centenarians survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. About 2,500 members of the public joined the Japanese bombing site on Wednesday to remember those who perished 81 years ago.
On December 7, 1941, at 7:55 am, the same time the attack began, the crowd sat in silence.
Sailors aboard the USS Daniel Inouye stood along the rails of a guided-missile destroyer that passed through the grassy shoreline where the ceremony took place and the USS Arizona Memorial to honor the survivors and those who died in the attack. Ken Stevens, a 100-year-old survivor of the USS Whitney, returned the salute.
“The lasting legacy of Pearl Harbor will forever be shared at this site, as we never forget those who came before us so that we can chart a more just and peaceful path for those who follow,” said Tom Leatherman. Superintendent of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
About 2,400 soldiers died in the bombing, which launched the US into World War II. The USS Arizona alone lost 1,177 sailors and marines, half the death toll. Most of Arizona’s fallen remain buried on the ship sitting on the harbor floor.
Ira Schaub, 102, was on the USS Dobbin as a tuba player in the ship’s band. He remembers Japanese planes flying overhead and wondering what to do.
“We had nowhere to go and hoped they would lose us,” he said before the ceremony began.
They fed ammunition to the machine gunners on board, which did not hit.
He has attended the memorial service four times now.
“I won’t miss it because I still have a lot of friends buried here. I will go back out of respect for them,” he said.
Schaub remained in the Navy during the war. After the war, he studied aerospace engineering and worked on the Apollo program. Today he lives in Portland, Oregon.
He wants people to remember those who served that day.
“Remember what they did here. Remember and honor those who survived. They did a hell of a job. Those who are still here, dead or alive,” he said.
Only six survivors attended, among the dozen or fewer who have traveled across the country to Hawaii for the annual memorial service in recent years.
Part of the decline reflects the declining number of survivors with age. The youngest active-duty military personnel was about 17 years old on December 7, 1941, making him 98 years old today. Many of those still alive number at least 100.
Herb Elfring, 100, of Jackson, Michigan, said many members of the public showed interest in the commemoration and attended the ceremony.
“Many people don’t know where Pearl Harbor is or what happened that day,” he said.
Elfring was in the Army, assigned to the 251st Coast Artillery, part of the California National Guard. He had heard bombs go off a few miles ashore at Pearl Harbor but thought it was part of the exercise.
But then he saw a red ball on the fuselage of a Japanese Zero fighter plane as it circled the ground with him near his barracks at Camp Malacol.
“That was a rude awakening,” he said. He said one soldier in his unit was hit by bullets, but no one was killed.
Robert John Lee remembers being a 20-year-old civilian living in his parents’ house on a naval base where his father ran a water pumping station. The house was just 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) across the harbor where the battleship USS Arizona was docked.
The first explosions woke him just before 8 a.m. He felt the door slamming in the air. He got up to yell for someone to shut the door only to see Japanese planes out the window dropping torpedo bombs from the sky.
He saw the USS Arizona’s hull turn a deep orange-red after being hit by an aerial bomb.
“Within seconds, that explosion came out with a huge tongue of flame directly above the ship — but hundreds of feet up,” Lee said in an interview Monday after a boat tour of the harbor.
He still remembers the hissing sound of the fire.
Sailors jumped into the water to escape their burning ships and swam to land near Lee’s house. Many were covered by the thick, heavy oil that covered the harbor. Lee and his mother used fels-naptha soap to help wash them. Sailors who were able to get into small boats took them back to their ships.
“Very heroic, I thought,” Lee said of him.
Lee joined the Hawaii Territorial Guard the next day and then the US Navy. He worked for Pan American World Airways for 30 years after the war.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs does not have statistics on how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still living. But of the 16 million people who served in World War II, only about 240,000 were alive in August, and about 230 died every day, the department’s data shows.
Military historian J. According to a rough estimate compiled by Michael Wenger, there were about 87,000 military personnel on Oahu at the time of the attack.