Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – On hallowed ground here, Pearl Harbor survivors and other World War II veterans gathered today to mark 75 years since the surprise Japanese attack on the island of Oahu that thrust the United States into war.
On that fateful Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, the men ran to their battle stations and to the sound of the guns as they moved boldly to begin the defense of our country, the commander of US Pacific Command, Navy Adm. Harry Harris, said.
“It was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism even as it was a day of sacrifice and immeasurable loss,” Harris said. “In less than two hours, there were over 2,400 killed, 1,200 wounded and a majority of the US Pacific Fleet taken out of action.”
The attack, he said, was “catastrophic by any standard.” The scars remain to this day, he said at the ceremony, which was held on a pier overlooking where the USS Arizona sank in the surprise attack, killing 1,177 men aboard.
The battleships USS Arizona and USS Utah are still entombed in the waters, Harris explained. The USS Oklahoma Memorial is nearby, and there are bullet holes in the buildings on Ford Island and Hickam Field.
“As we look upon the majestic USS Arizona Memorial behind me, take comfort in knowing that our departed World War II veterans continue to stand vigilant watch as guardian angels of our nation,” he said.
But from the devastation, the survivors and others who served in World War II responded to the attack with conspicuous valor, Harris said. They fought a tough war and emerged victorious.
Inspiration from the “Greatest Generation” lives on today, he said.
“The best fighting force the world has ever seen exists because of the legacy of the men and women who did their duty when our nation needed it the most 75 years ago, today,” Harris said.
Thousands of people attended the ceremony today on Kilo pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, including the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, Ray Chavez, 104.
The veterans received a heroes’ welcome, with applause, cheers and standing ovations. Before and after the ceremony, attendees crowded around the veterans, to shake their hands, take pictures with them and thank them for their service.
At the start of the ceremony, USS Halsey sounded its whistle to signify when the Japanese aerial assault began that fateful day. When the whistle stopped, the crowd observed a moment of silence.
F-22 Raptors from the 199th Fighter Squadron and 19th Fighter Squadron on a missing man formation from just beyond the USS Arizona Memorial and continued over Ford Island in honor of the fallen. The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis was at a pier nearby.
Halsey passed the pier to render honors to the Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance. The honors were returned by Donald Stratton, a seaman first class on the USS Arizona, who suffered severe burns over 60 percent of his body during the 1941 attack.
“When he saw the Japanese planes topside, he ran to his battle station, even before the general quarters alarm sounded,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rob Franklin told the ceremony audience, acknowledging Stratton as one of five known living USS Arizona survivors.
Wreaths were presented by the state of Hawaii, and all the military services. A benediction, rifle salute, echo taps and postlude, vintage plane flyby and tugboat water tribute closed out the ceremony.
Veterans then took a boat over to the USS Arizona Memorial to place wreaths at that hallowed site, which is built over the sunken battleship.
Honoring All Who Have Served
The men and women who served in World War II, and all the conflicts and missions since, including those who serve around the globe today, have done so with bravery and dedication, Harris said. The nation is blessed to have such strong men and women who are willing to give so much for the cause of freedom, he added.
“Today’s joint forces have assumed liberty’s mantle passed down in an unbroken chain, watch to watch, for 75 years,” he said.
No one should doubt that a strong US military will continue to stand a global watch for generations to come, Harris said. The legacy and lessons of Pearl Harbor are being passed from generation to generation, with those in the next generations continuing to stand the watch and continue the fight against tyranny and injustice, the admiral said.