HONOLULU – Survivors, gathered Thursday at the site of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to remember fellow soldiers killed in the early morning raid 76 years ago, a tribute to the thousands who died with a solemn ceremony marking the surprise bombing that plunged the U.S. into the second world War.
About 20 survivors were at the event on a grassy looking view of the harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. They were accompanied by about 2,000 Navy sailors, civil servants and members of the public.
Gilbert Meyer, who lived through the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing, said he returned to pay his respects to his shipmates of the USS Utah and say a prayer for them.
The 94-year-old who lives in the neighbourhood of Lytle, Texas, was an 18-year-old fireman first class, as well as a torpedo hit the port side of the Utah. He said that he is still alive because he happened to be on the ship’s starboard side.
“I think about my shipmates and how they were killed. It reminds me that we’re lucky we got out and we have a good country for them,” Meyer said.
Meyer later served in the battles at Attu, Kiska, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. He witnessed the japanese surrender in 1945 from the deck of the USS Detroit in the Bay of Tokyo.
Herbert Elfring recalled hearing bombs explode and at first thought that the explosions were AMERICAN exercises.
Then a fighter plane painting with Japan in the second world War Rising Sun insignia strafed the Camp Makaole basis where Elfring, 19 at the time, was true. The bullets missed him by about 15 feet (5 meters).
“When I looked up and saw the red ball on the fuselage, I knew that it was not our plane,” he said. “I knew it was a Japanese plane.”
Jackson, Michigan man is now 95 years old. He said back to Pearl Harbor for the anniversary of the attack makes him feel special, because he is one of the few survivors.
“I have one of those caps that says ‘Pearl Harbor ‘Survivor’, ” he said. “It is amazing how many people come and thank me for my service.”
Elfring was in the army of the entire war, that in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. When it ended, he went to the University of Michigan on the GI Bill, worked for a gas and electric company and raised a family of five.
The ceremony began with a minute of silence in honor of those who lost their lives. The time was set to 7:55 a.m. — the same time the attack began. Four Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 fighter jets broke the silence, with one plane peeling off from the group to symbolize soldiers still missing.
“The heroes of today with our guaranteed Pearl Harbor would not be the end of the story,” said Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift. “Instead of retreating from the battle, the u.s. Pacific Fleet dug in its heels. Along the way, they forged a cultural heritage of the resilience that sailors continue to draw from today.”
The Navy and the National Park Service hosts the ceremony each year at the same time the attack began. Usually, a Naval ship with sailors manning the rails passes through the USS Arizona Memorial during the event. This year, a ship will not take part because of operational commitments, said Bill Doughty, a spokesman for the Navy Region Hawaii.
More than 2,300 servicemen were killed in the attack carried out by Japanese aircraft. Nearly half were on the USS Arizona, which exploded and sank after it was struck by two bombs. Most of the Arizona’s fallen are locked away in the battleship, which lies on the bottom of the port.
After the ceremony, survivors and dignitaries expected to ride a boat to the Arizona memorial and present wreaths in remembrance of those killed.
“On behalf of a grateful Peaceful nation, and a proud Pacific Fleet, I would like to thank our Pearl Harbor and the second world War veterans who still carry the burden and bear the scars of that fateful day,” Swift said. “We honor you for the pride in the cultural heritage of the victory and the resistance that you have given to each of us who now wear the uniform in your honor.”
Japan and the U.S. became close allies after the war.