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PEARL HARBOR - More than 2,500 guests, including Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans gathered at the Pacific National Monument's Pearl Harbor Visitor Center Dec. 7 to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the attack.
The remembrance ceremony, hosted by the National Park Service and U.S. Navy, featured the theme "Sound the Alarm," examining how thousands of Americans answered the call after the attack and how the nation was united behind a common purpose throughout the war.
The two keynote speakers were Max Cleland, secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. (see remarks), commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet.
For Harris, the ceremony was especially poignant since his father was stationed at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 onboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which had set sail just two days before the attack.
"For those who gave the last full measure of devotion for their nation that day, we feel a deep sense of sorrow for the loss of such potential," said Harris, who took command of the Pacific Fleet in October 2013. "Yet, we are also inspired by their great gift to the world - the gift of freedom itself. They did not go quietly into the night, and along with those who survived, a reluctant nation emerged to fight and ultimately win in World War II."
Harris compared the Greatest Generation to Americans who responded after the surprise attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and how our nation must remain vigilant.
"Thankfully, our nation has always been blessed to have strong men and women with exceptional courage, who are willing and able to step forward to do whatever it takes to defend America, whenever our liberty is in jeopardy," said Harris. "Now, as military efforts in Afghanistan drawn down, our nation looks to the future, and we emphasize the tremendous importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific."
"Ours is a region of rapid growth, not only in population, not only in industry, but also in competition for scarce resources and in military growth, and I say 'ours' deliberately," Harris said. "The United States is, and will remain, a Pacific power. But we also remember the warning from those who survived Pearl Harbor, and we are increasing our vigilance accordingly. Today, we are focused as we are listening for the sounds of the alarm."
Cleland echoed Harris' sentiment about how the Greatest Generation shaped the world we live in today.
"For all the Pearl Harbor survivors, thank you for teaching us all how to survive, how not to just to survive but to strive to turn things around, and how to ultimately thrive in life," Cleland said. "I am the direct beneficiary of the greatest of the great generation."
Harris also commended the Pearl Harbor survivors for the enduring legacy they have provided.
"The fact that we can sit here today, in peace, is just another example of the immeasurable debt we owe to all those who served in World War II, both at home and aboard," Harris said. "I offer my salute to those of you here today for your commitment to our nation and for not failing when duty called. As the Pacific Fleet commander, I want to assure you that this current generation of warriors has heeded your call. We remember Pearl Harbor, we are vigilant, and we are ready to fight tonight and win. Not only are we poised to respond to the first notes of the alarm bell, we are also doing everything possible to keep the alarm from sounding in the first place."
At 7:55 a.m., the exact moment the attack began in 1941, a moment of silence was observed. During the ceremony the guide-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) rendered honors to the USS Arizona. The U.S. Marine Corps provided a rifle salute and members of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band performed morning colors and echo taps. Also, during the ceremony wreaths were presented in honor of those who died in the attack and the men and women who survived.
Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans concluded the ceremony with a "Walk of Honor" in which military service members and National Park Service men and women formed an honor cordon for them to pass through.
In addition to the ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the park service conducted a USS Utah sunset ceremony on Dec. 6th and a USS Oklahoma Memorial Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance ceremony today. The 15th Air Wing also held a ceremony to honor the 189 killed and 303 wounded during the attack at what was then known as Hickam Field.