Survivors flock to Pearl Harbour to remember Japanese attack which pushed the US into second world war
Survivors gathered on Thursday at the site of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour to remember fellow servicemen killed in the early morning raid 76 years ago, paying homage to the thousands who died with a solemn ceremony marking the surprise bombing raid that plunged the US into the second world war.
About 20 survivors attended the event at a grassy ground overlooking the harbour and the USS Arizona Memorial. They were joined by about 2,000 Navy sailors, officials and members of the public.
Gilbert Meyer, who lived through the December 7, 1941 bombing, said he returned to pay his respects to his shipmates from the USS Utah – and say a prayer for them.
The 94-year who lives near Lytle, Texas, was an 18-year-old fireman first class when a torpedo hit the port side of the Utah. He said he is still alive because he happened to be on the ship’s starboard side.
“I think about my shipmates and how they were killed. It reminds me that we’re lucky we got off and we’ve made a good country for them,” Meyer said.
Meyer later served in the battles at Attu, Kiska, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He witnessed Japan’s surrender in 1945 from the deck of the USS Detroit in Tokyo Bay.
Herbert Elfring remembered hearing bombs explode and initially thought the explosions were US training exercises.
Then a fighter plane painting with Japan’s Rising Sun insignia strafed the Camp Makaole base where Elfring, 19 at the time, was serving. The bullets missed him by about 15 feet (5 metres).
“When I looked up and saw the red ball on the fuselage I knew it wasn’t our plane,” he said. “I knew it was a Japanese plane.”
The Jackson, Michigan, man is now 95 years old. He said returning to Pearl Harbour for the anniversary of the attack makes him feel special because he is one of the few remaining survivors.
“I have one of those caps that says ‘Pearl Harbour Survivor’ on it,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people come up and thank me for my service.”
Elfring was in the military for the entire war, serving in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. When it ended, he went to the University of Michigan on the GI Bill, worked for a gas and electric company and raised a family of five.
The ceremony began with a moment of silence in honour of those who lost their lives. The moment was timed for 7:55am – the same time the attack began. Four Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 fighter jets broke the silence, with one plane peeling off from the group to symbolise servicemen still missing.
“The heroes with us today ensured Pearl Harbour would not be the end of the story,” said Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift. “Instead of retreating from the fight, America’s Pacific Fleet dug in its heels. Along the way, they forged a cultural heritage of resilience that sailors continue to draw upon today.”
The Navy and National Park Service host the ceremony each year at the same time the attack began. Usually, a Navy vessel with sailors manning the rails passes by the USS Arizona Memorial during the event. This year, a ship will not participate because of operational commitments, said Bill Doughty, a spokesman for Navy Region Hawaii.
More than 2,300 servicemen were killed in the assault carried out by Japanese air planes. Nearly half were on the USS Arizona, which exploded and sank after it was hit by two bombs. Most of the Arizona’s fallen are entombed in the battleship, which lies at the bottom of the harbour.
After the ceremony, survivors and dignitaries were expected to ride a boat to the Arizona memorial and present wreaths in remembrance of those killed.
“On behalf of a grateful Pacific nation, and a proud Pacific Fleet, I would like to thank our Pearl Harbour and World War II veterans who yet carry the burden and bear the scars of those fateful days,” Swift said. “We honour you for the proud cultural heritage of victory and toughness that you have bestowed on each of us that now wear the uniform in your honour.”
Japan and the US became close allies after the war.