Sustained and appreciative ovations were given veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack and World War II during a special commemoration ceremony Wednesday, recognizing the 75th anniversary of the historic event.
The ceremony at Kilo Pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, overlooking USS Arizona Memorial and Battleship Missouri Memorial, brought together on this momentous occasion hundreds of Pearl Harbor survivors and other World War II veterans and their families as well as Dec. 7 witnesses, elected officials and dignitaries.
Keynote speaker Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, praised the survivors for their selfless service, saying “we owe you an immeasurable debt” for standing watch and answering “the clarion call” of defending the embattled base and their country.
“It fell upon their brave shoulders to respond to the crisis that day,” Adm. Harris said. He said the scars of the attack remain today at the USS Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah Memorials. “They remind us of our history and how America responded with conspicuous valor.”
The admiral used a bible verse from Isaiah 6:8 as inspiration — “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” He said these were powerful words, extrapolating from the verse by adding “here I am America, send me.”
“You inspire us today and shape our future,” he told the veterans.
“Those who survived Pearl Harbor also left us a warning,” the admiral said. “Remember Pearl Harbor, keep America alert. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and imperative to never be caught by strategic surprise again.”
Adm. Harris himself received a lengthy and vocal ovation when he mentioned at the beginning of his speech about standing for the national anthem.
“You can bet that the men and women we honor today – and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago – never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played,” he said.
A moment of silence was observed at 7:55 a.m. – the exact moment the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began 75 years ago. The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) rendered pass-in-review honors to the USS Arizona, and a missing man flyover was conducted above Pearl Harbor during the ceremony.
View the ceremony in its entirety:
Earlier in the morning, Pamela Young spoke with Daniel Martinez, the chief historian for the National Park Service at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum and Visitor Center.
He has a personal connection to the Pearl Harbor attack 75 years ago as his grandfather was a shipyard foreman. His grandfather saw the opening sequence of the attack with torpedo planes flying overhead.
Martinez’s grandfather and his co-workers had to stay under sheet metal as bullets from the attack planes strafed the area. He would return later that afternoon after the attack to help pull bodies out of the water.
Martinez said this remembrance feels different as survivors “sense this will be the last time” that they will visit the memorial.
Due to limited public seating at Kilo Pier, more than 2,000 people watched the events unfold from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
“It’s interesting to me to think about the fact that at this time 75 years ago, the Japanese attack force was airborne and the last few moments of peace prior to World War (II) were slipping away,” said Jason Blount, chief of visitor services.
The first person in line arrived just after 1 a.m. to get a ticket.
“We planned it a couple months ago,” said Lilian Hunter. “My husband is a history buff. He says, ‘Let’s go to Hawaii for our 50th,’ and it’s a couple months after our 50th, but we decided that was important and that was something on our bucket list and something we wanted to do.
“We were here yesterday on a tour and then we decided, we started hearing that they would let people in around a couple of thousand, and Bob says ‘Okay, let’s try to be there early,’ and we ended up being first in line,” she continued.
At 5:30 a.m., the gates opened and the crowd walked through tight security one at a time to witness the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“It’s a pretty historic day to be here and it means a lot to be here,” said San Diego resident Robert Paladino. “It’s one of the biggest days for our country.”
The parking lots filled up fast, and some people told us the line to ride the shuttle from Aloha Stadium was so long, they decided to walk 20 minutes to the venue instead.
“We have a lot of enthusiastic visitors, an international audience from all around the world,” Blount said. “A lot of people are really excited to be able to come and commemorate the young men and women on Oahu who lost their lives that morning and they come to pay their respects.”
There’s much more on the events of that fateful day in stories told by Joe Moore, Ron Mizutani, and Pamela Young.
You can watch “Pearl Harbor: Untold Stories of Heroism” this Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 9:30 p.m. on KHON2. Click here for more information.