Dozens of Military Veterans and Family Have Come to Pearl Harbor to Commemorate the Dec. 7, 1941 Attack

By William Cole

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Update: 10:50 a.m.

The 76th anniversary commemoration of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor concluded this morning with a rifle salute, echo taps and a vintage plane flyover, with the dwindling number of survivors leaving through an honor cordon of dozens of uniformed service members.

2017 December 7, photo by Craig T. Kojima Thursday December 7, 2017 Arizona Memorial 2017. Admiral Scott Smith, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

Adm. Scott Swift, head of U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in his remarks at the ceremony, “This morning, as we have for the last 76 years, we gather here to pay our respects to America’s World War II generation, the greatest generation, and in particular our veterans and civilians that responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor, grateful for their courage, service and sacrifice. We also honor fallen shipmates and all others who fell that day, as we mourn the loss of so many of our nation’s best and brightest.”

Gilbert Meyer, 94, who was on the USS Utah, came from Texas to remember the day and his comrades. His recollection of that morning? “To get off the ship and get where it was safe.”

Torpedoes slammed into the Utah’s port side. He was on the starboard side and safe, he said. “We got off and followed the ship around as she rolled,” he said.

Meyer said only five crew members are still living from the Utah.

Pearl Harbor Survivors at the 76 Pearl Harbor commemoration ceremony on December 7, 2017. Ray Chavez, believed to be the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor at 105, is on the left. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Ray Chavez, believed to be the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor at 105, came out from San Diego with his daughter, Kathleen Chavez, 65.

He was on the minesweeper Condor, which spotted the periscope of a Japanese midget submarine as it tried to enter Pearl Harbor.

“He likes to show his respect, especially for the folks that died here, and that’s why he comes out,” his daughter said.

Update: 8:12 a.m.

Hundeds flocked to Pearl Harbor to remember the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

A capacity crowd filled the 2,000 seats under three large tents to watch this morning’s ceremony. Hundreds of people standing for ceremony looking out over glassy harbor waters and sunken USS Arizona.

Arizona Memorial on December 7, 2017.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

The ceremony started at 7:50 a.m. At 7:53, the USS Arizona bell on visitor center grounds was rung once, followed by a moment of silence and “missing man” flyover by four F-22 Raptors, with one arcing high into the sky over the sunken Arizona to symbolize those lost on Dec. 7, 1941.

Previous coverage

Pearl Harbor survivor, Al Rodrigueq salutes for the audience during ceremony. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

This morning’s Pearl Harbor observance on the 76th anniversary of the attack marks a return of the ceremony to the back lawn of the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center.

USS Arizona survivor Lou Conter, center, before this morning’s ceremony. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

At least 41 WWII veterans, 21 of whom are Pearl Harbor survivors, are in attendance at the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center, according to the National Park Service.

USS Arizona surviors Donald Stratton, left, and Lauren Bruner, before the observance ceremony this morning. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

Don Stratton, one of three USS Arizona survivors expected at the ceremony, arrived in a wheelchair with help from his son, Randy. Stratton is here with his wife, Velma, 91. They’ve been married for 67 years.

Stratton said one of the reasons he came out this year is for a Bronze Star presentation later today for Joe George, who was on the adjacent repair ship USS Vestal. George threw a line to six men trapped on the burning Arizona, and they were able to escape.

The Navy said George, who died in 1996, was commended in 1942 but he never received any medal for his actions. For more than a decade, Stratton and Bruner have lobbied for George to get a Navy Cross or other medal.

Asked what he would say if George was here, Stratton responded, “Thanks buddy. You saved my life,” as he got a little emotional.

This year’s theme, “Rising to the Challenge,” will highlight events “during the first year after the attack, 75 years ago, as the United States rose to face challenges, both at war and on the home front, in order to achieve greater peace, freedom and democracy in the world,” the National Park Service said.

In the two-hour attack, about 2,455 men, women and children were killed. The total includes 2,390 American service members and Oahu civilians, 56 Japanese aviators and up to nine Japanese submariners.

Twenty-one ships of the Pacific Fleet, including eight battleships, were sunk or damaged, and 164 aircraft were destroyed.

Steve Twomey, author of “Countdown to Pearl Harbor,” will deliver the keynote address.

An Arizona Memorial shuttle boat returned to shore from the Memorial. This morning’s Pearl Harbor observance on the 76th anniversary of the attack marks a return of the ceremony to the back lawn of the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

The venue for the combined 7:50 a.m. park service and Navy commemoration is the ceremonial lawn at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the visitor center for the USS Arizona Memorial.

Jacueline Ashwell, Superintendent, National Park Service speaks. Photo: CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM.

Last year, to accommodate larger attendance, about 3,800 chairs were set up for the observance at Pearl Harbor’s nearby Kilo Pier, and all were filled. This year, 2,000 chairs will be set up under a tent, and everything else will be standing room only. Stephanie Loeb, a park service spokeswoman, said between 2,000 and 3,000 people are expected.

A “missing man” flyover by F-22 Raptor fighters is planned, but a destroyer pass-in-review was canceled due to operational, safety and security considerations.

A Hawaiian blessing, wreath presentations, a rifle salute and echo taps are also planned.

USS Arizona Memorial programs will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the visitor center. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 6 a.m. No reserved tickets will be available.

This story was originally published as Hawaii observes 76th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack by William Cole on www.StarAdvertiser.com on December 7, 2017.

Visit the special Pearl Harbor section at www.hawaii.com/pearl-harbor.

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