Survivors gather at Pearl Harbor
20 veterans of 1941 attack gather to pay respects
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — About 20 survivors gathered at Pearl Harbor on Friday to pay tribute to the thousands of men lost in the Japanese attack 77 years ago.
They joined dignitaries, active duty troops and members of the public in observing a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the time the bombing began on Dec. 7, 1941.
John Mathrusse was an 18-year-old seaman second class walking out of the chow hall on Ford Island to see a friend on the USS West Virginia when the bombing began.
“The guys were getting hurt, bombs and shells going off in the water. I helped the ones that couldn’t swim, who were too badly injured or whatever and helped them to shore,” said Mathrusse, now 95.
Mathrusse, who traveled to Hawaii for the event from Mountain View, Calif., remembers carrying injured people to the mess hall and setting them on mattresses grabbed from the barracks above.
Robert Fernandez, who was assigned to the USS Curtiss, recalls being petrified.
“I was kind of nervous too. I was scared. I was 17. I went to go see the world. What did I get into? A war,” he said.
The 94-year- old from Stockton, Calif., returns for the annual remembrance each year because he’s now alone after his wife died four years ago.
Adm. Phil Davidson, com- mander of the U.S. IndoPacific Command, said the nation can never forget the heavy price paid on that day. He cited 21 vessels damaged or sunk, 170 planes destroyed, more than 2,400 people dead, including servicemen and civilians.
“Despite these losses, it did not break the American spirit. In fact, it charged it,” he said in a keynote address.
The survivors are declining in number as they push well into their 90s, and are increasingly treated as celebrities. They say people ask for their autographs and request to take photos and selfies with them.
“I am given a lot of attention and honor. I shake hands continuously,” said Tom Berg, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash. Berg, who is 96, served on the USS Tennessee.
This year, no survivor from the USS Arizona attended the ceremony as none of the men were able to make the trip to Hawaii.
The Arizona sank after two bombs hit the ship, triggering tremendous explosions.
The Arizona lost 1,177 sailors and Marines, the greatest number of casualties from any ship. Most remain entombed in the sunken hull of the battleship at the bottom of the harbor.
There are now only five USS Arizona survivors still alive: Lauren Bruner, 98, Lou Conter, 97, Lonnie Cook, 98, Ken Potts, 97, and Don Strat- ton, 96.
The Arizona Republic in 2014 visited all remaining USS Arizona survivors — there were nine still alive at the time — and published extensive interviews with the aging veterans. What emerged were moving stories and remembrances of an attack that had altered their lives.
Most could still recall vivid details about that Sunday morning, though a few, even decades later, could not bring themselves to talk about their fellow shipmates who hadn’t escaped.
For years, elderly survivors of the USS Arizona faithfully returned to Oahu to participate in ceremonies to remember the attack.
As in past years, Friday’s events include military fighter planes flying over the harbor in a “Missing Man” formation and the ringing of the USS Arizona bell.
One survivor, Ken Potts, described the memorial to the attack in Oahu — the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument — as “one of the best actual memorials I’ve seen,” according to the Republic.
Ray Chavez, previously the oldest known survivor, died less than three weeks ago in his sleep, at age 106. In May, Chavez had visited President Donald Trump in the White House.
The Washington Post contributed.