HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A light rain fell at Pearl Harbor Friday morning as some 1,500 people gathered for a solemn annual tradition: To mark the anniversary of the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet.
The remembrance ceremony began at 7:50 a.m. and at precisely 7:55 a.m., attendees bowed their heads in silence.
It was at that moment 77 years ago that Japanese warplanes started a historic assault on Pearl Harbor that would leave 2,403 Americans dead and throw the United States into war.
Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, said the world may be losing World War II veterans every year — but the United States will never forget their sacrifice.
“For so long as there is a United States of America, a flag will fly over the USS Arizona Memorial and the National Park Service will continue to tell your story,” she said. “Your unconquerable spirits will live forever.”
Every year, survivors of the attack also urge younger generations to “never forget.”
That was Pearl Harbor survivor John Mathrusse’s message this year.
“We hope they never forget,” he said. “All the kids should come out here to see for themselves what happened.”
And that refrain is all the more poignant this year given not only who was at the Pearl Harbor ceremony, but by who wasn’t there: No one who survived the bombing of the USS Arizona battleship was in the audience.
That’s a first — all five of the survivors weren’t healthy enough to travel — and a stark reminder that World War II veterans aren’t getting any younger.
With each passing year, their numbers dwindle.
And many are no longer able to make the long trek to Hawaii for the commemoration.
Daniel Martinez, historian with the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, added that only about 100 World War II veterans were at Friday’s ceremony. About 40 of them were survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
That’s markedly smaller than the number of veterans who came out two years ago, for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“They’re here in our hearts,” said Jason Blount, chief of visitor services at the monument.
“Regardless if we have one Pearl Harbor survivor or 100, our mission here is to honor that period of American history and the men and women who experienced it first-hand.”
World War II author Michael Wenger added that the smaller numbers of survivors is a sad preview of what’s to come.
“Once all these Pearl Harbor survivors are gone, and the people who knew them are gone, we’re going to have lost this last living connection,” he said.
This story will be updated.