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PEARL HARBOR – Veterans, service members, families and guests commemorated Pearl Harbor Day with multiple ceremonies at Ford Island and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Dec. 7.
The theme of this year’s historic commemorations, “Preserving the Memory,” focused on keeping the story of the attacks on Oahu and the beginning of World War II for the United States alive for new generations and the nation.
The day began at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Pearl Harbor Visitor Center with the 73rd annual commemoration ceremony dedicated to the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, provided opening remarks and introduced U.S. Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, Commander, Pacific Air Forces, who served as a keynote speaker for the event, which overlooked the historic USS Arizona Memorial.
“For the last 73 years here in the Pacific, we’ve remembered Pearl Harbor, we’ve remained vigilant and just as the Greatest Generation before us, today’s armed forces are more than ready to answer the alarm, and if need be, we’re ready to fight tonight and win,” said Harris. “We are doing everything we can to keep the alarm from sounding in the first place, by enacting America’s current strategic rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, designed to maintain stability, prosperity and peace throughout the region.”
Harris praised Gen. Robinson’s leadership and professional skills, intellect and mastery, which helped her excel and set the highest standards, achieving numerous records in her military career.
Robinson, who recently took command of Pacific Air Forces from Gen. Hawk Carlisle Oct. 16, expressed her emotions of sharing this historic day with all of the survivors and veterans.
“For me, it is difficult to imagine the events of that Sunday morning 73 years ago. Even as it was a day of sacrifice and loss, it was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism,” said Robinson in her address. “Countless brave Americans, like many of those here in the front row, not only rallied in response to the attacks, but fought intrepidly in the many years of war that followed.”
Robinson also spoke of the sacrifices faced not only by the military but also by firefighters, civilians, families and children on the day of the attacks, and the courage and heroism they have shown in the face of tragedy. That courage serves as a lesson and motivation for the armed forces today.
“As our nation rebalances to the Asia-Pacific region, I assure you the current generation of American warriors stands ready,” concluded Robinson. “May God bless you, and all of our military and civil servicemen and women, both past and present, who have bravely answered our nation’s call time and time again, and who have never failed us.”
During the ceremony, a moment of silence was observed at 7:55 a.m., the exact moment the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began 73 years ago. The guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) rendered pass-in-review honors to the USS Arizona and all Pearl Harbor survivors present at the ceremony. The 199th Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard, 19th Fighter Squadron, U.S. Air Force also presented an F-22 Raptors flyover.
The ceremony was co-hosted by Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, and Paul DePrey, Superintendent, WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, National Park Service.
The event also included musical accompaniment provided by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, the parading of colors, a traditional Hawaiian blessing, and a cannon salute by members of the U.S. Army.
Additionally, veterans of each military branch presented a floral wreath for each service, accompanied by an active duty service member, in recognition of the men and women who survived the attack and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country on Dec. 7, 1941.
The ceremony concluded with a “Walk of Honor” by the Pearl Harbor Survivors attending the ceremony and other World War II veterans through an honor cordon of military service members and National Park Service men and women.
The National Park Service also hosted the annual USS Oklahoma Memorial ceremony located on Ford Island next to the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans, service members, families and guests attended the ceremony, at which Capt. Stanley Keeve Jr., commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, served as a guest speaker.
“We will never forget the crew of the USS Oklahoma,” said Keeve in his address. “We will strive to educate this generation and the generations to come about what happened here, what their shipmates died for, and the legacy they left behind.”
During the ceremony U.S. Navy Chaplain Cmdr. George Mendes provided the invocation, Joint Base Color Guard presented the colors to the PACFLT Band Quintet’s musical accompaniment and U.S. Marine Corps Rifle Detail provided a gun salute.
Veterans attending the ceremony took a moment to walk among the names of those perished in the attack, etched on the marble columns of the USS Oklahoma Memorial, observing moments of silent contemplation and laying flowers or wrapping Hawaiian leis on the monument.
“I frequently get asked ‘why do you keep coming back every year?’ and I had a hard time coming up with an answer,” said Ed Vezey, USS Oklahoma survivor. “But perhaps … part of it is a word that became very important – Shipmate. I think shipmates enjoy very unique and emotional mindset that doesn’t exist in any other service.”
Vezey continued as he looked upon the memorial.
“The reality is you fall in love with the ship that you live on and it has to do really with the people – people are so important, and it is hard to convey the feeling that when you go to sea and the land disappears behind you – it’s you, and your ship, and your shipmates,” he explained. “There is a bond that forms, which is unique, it’s a tremendous factor. These are my shipmates, I come back because I am still here and they are a part of me… I am not complete when I am not with my shipmates.”
USS Oklahoma Memorial is constructed of 429 three-dimensional white marble columns, engraved with the names of each crewmember that perished during the attack. The white marble columns are arranged in a “V” shape, designed to resemble Sailors manning the rails. Surrounding the columns are black marble slabs etched with notable quotes from Oklahoma survivors.
“As I stand here today, looking at this solemn monument to those Sailors and Marines who lost their lives aboard that great battleship, I am moved to pause for a moment and consider the names written there,” shared Keeve. “I see in every one of them more than simply a name carved in marble, but instead a reminder of a life lived, a sacrifice made and a lesson learned for those who will listen.”
Later in the afternoon, four of the nine remaining USS Arizona survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, John Anderson, Lauren Bruner, Louis Conter and Donald Stratton, arrived to USS Arizona Memorial for their final reunion. This historic event marked the end of an era for the USS Arizona survivors, all aged in their 90’s, who have announced that this was the final, official gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Association.
Despite the official announcement, the men still plan to get together, regardless of the location.
“I don’t think this is going to be our last [meeting],” said Louis Conter, 93. “We still have time to go, so I think we’ll be back out here no matter whether the rest of the crowd can make it or not.”
While at the memorial, the survivors poured a “final toast” to their shipmates, drinking from original champagne glasses from the USS Arizona. They shared a bottle of wine – a gift from President Gerald Ford to the association presented in 1975. According to survivors, this final salute symbolized the brotherhood and sacrifice of the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor 73 years ago.
After the toast, survivors handed one of the glasses to a team of Navy and National Park Service divers who placed it at the base of the Arizona’s gun turret four. Gun turret four serves as the final resting place for survivors of the attack who wish to have their ashes placed at their former battle station. Since 1980, 38 Arizona survivors have been reunited with their fellow shipmates on the ship.
“The good Lord saved just a few of us,” shared Donald Stratton, 92, who was one of the survivors of a gun director in the forward part of the ship and sustained severe burns during the attack, which required hospitalization lasting for more than a year. “So terrible, terrible day.”
Conter shared his thoughts on the event and the honor he felt to be by his ship, among the fellow Sailors.
“It was amazing for the four of us,” said Conter “I think we all felt the same - an honor to toast the 1,177 shipmates that we had and who died that day. And the glass, which is now interred there [gun turret four], will give us a chance to have something to drink out of when we’re buried there.”
The events concluded with two ash scattering ceremonies at USS Utah Memorial on Ford Island. There, family members, friends and service members met with retired Command Master Chief James Taylor, Pearl Harbor survivor liaison for Navy Region Hawaii, to give a final farewell to Chief Petty Officer Robert C. Knight, Pearl Harbor survivor, who served in an aviation squadron at Kaneohe Bay during the Japanese attacks on Dec. 7, 1941 and Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Harry E. Smith, who served aboard USS Ralph Talbot (DD 390).
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, a photo caption misstated Cpl. Kevin Shepherd’s name.