Pearl Harbor memories
A few survivors recall that day, salute those who didn’t make it
HONOLULU — Survivors gathered Thursday at the site of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 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 U.S. into World War II.
About 20 survivors attended the event at a grassy spot overlooking the harbor 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 Dec. 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-old, 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 was alive because he happened to have been on the ship’s starboard side.
“I think about my shipmates and how they were killed,” Meyer said. “It reminds me that we’re lucky we got off and we’ve made a good country for them.”
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 first thought the explosions were U.S. training exercises.
Then a fighter plane with Japan’s World War II Rising Sun insignia strafed the Camp Makaole base where Elfring, 19 at the time, was serving. The bullets missed him by about 15 feet.
“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, Mich., man is now 95 and said returning to Pearl Harbor for the anniversary of the attack made him feel special because he’s one of the few remaining survivors. “I have one of those caps that says ‘Pearl Harbor 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.
The ceremony began with a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. — the same time the attack began. Four F-22 fighter jets broke the silence, with one plane peeling off from the group to symbolize servicemen still missing.
“The heroes with us today ensured Pearl Harbor would not be the end of the story,” said Adm. Scott Swift, the Pacific Fleet commander. “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.
Usually, a Pacific Fleet vessel with sailors manning the rails passes the USS Arizona Memorial during the event. This year, no ship participated because of operational commitments, said Bill Doughty, a spokesman for Navy Region Hawaii.
More than 2,300 servicemen were killed in the assault by Japanese airplanes. Nearly half were on the USS Arizona, which exploded and sank after it was hit by two bombs.
Armando “Chick” Galella grew emotional Thursday at a wreath-laying aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. Galella, 96, was the only Pearl Harbor survivor at the 76th anniversary event.
Don Stratton (left) and Lauren Bruner shook hands at the Arizona Memorial in Honolulu on Thursday during a 76th anniversary commemoration of the Pearl Harbor attack.