First re­mem­brance with­out a USS Ari­zona sur­vivor present

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Amy B Wang

Just be­fore 8 a.m. Honolulu time on Dec. 7, 1941, Ja­panese fighter planes and bombers shat­tered the Sun­day quiet at Pearl Har­bor in Hawaii. It was an at­tack on the United States that thrust Amer­ica into World War II.

De­spite a ra­dio­gram that was ur­gently pushed to all U.S. mil­i­tary in the area — “AIR­RAID ON PEARL HAR­BOR X THIS IS NO DRILL” — the sur­prise at­tack de­stroyed or dam­aged more than a dozen Amer­i­can ships and hun­dreds of air­craft.

More than 2,400 Amer­i­cans were killed. But it was the USS Ari­zona that suf­fered the great­est hu­man loss: Of the 1,512 on board at the time, only about 300 sur­vived. The ship rests, sunken, at the bot­tom of the har­bor — along with the re­mains of hun­dreds of vic­tims.

Over the decades, those who were able to es­cape the Ari­zona be­fore it sank have been a fix­ture at me­mo­ri­als and events mark­ing the at­tack, a day which has in­deed lived in in­famy.

But on Fri­day, for the first time in more than seven decades, there were no sur­vivors from the Ari­zona present when of­fi­cials com­mem­o­rated the 77th an­niver­sary of the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor.

There are only five Ari­zona sur­vivors still alive: Lau­ren Bruner, 98; Lou Con­ter, 97; Lon­nie Cook, 98; Ken Potts, 97; and Don Strat­ton, 96. None were able to travel to Honolulu this year, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

The Ari­zona Repub­lic news­pa­per 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 — al­though a few, even decades later, could not bring them­selves to talk about their fel­low ship­mates who were un­able to es­cape.

For years, el­derly sur­vivors of the Ari­zona bat­tle­ship faith­fully re­turned to Pearl Har­bor to par­tic­i­pate in cer­e­monies to re­mem­ber the at­tack. As in past years, Fri­day’s events in­cluded U.S. fighter planes fly­ing over the har­bor in a “Miss­ing Man” for­ma­tion and the ring­ing of the Ari­zona’s bell.

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 at age 106. In May, Chavez vis­ited Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at the White House, which tweeted a re­mem­brance of the vet­eran af­ter his pass­ing.

“We’re lucky to have five Ari­zona sur­vivors left,” Daniel Martinez, chief his­to­rian for the World War II Valor in the Pa­cific Na­tional Mon­u­ment, told the Honolulu Star-Ad­ver­tiser news­pa­per. “At their age of 95-plus, it’s re­mark­able that they’ve had that longevity, and it keeps us still se­cured to the idea that some­one could tell us what hap­pened — be­cause they wit­nessed it.”

But the pass­ing of each Ari­zona sur­vivor is a bit­ter­sweet re­minder that we are in­creas­ingly fur­ther re­moved from one of the most vis­cer­ally shock­ing events in his­tory.

There are less than 500,000 vet­er­ans of World War II still liv­ing, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs; about 348 WWII vet­er­ans are dy­ing each day.

“It makes me afraid that we’re go­ing to dis­tance our­selves from what hap­pened,” Pearl Har­bor vis­i­tor Kasey Cross told Hawaii News Now.

Con­ter, one of the five liv­ing Ari­zona sur­vivors, said “doc­tor’s or­ders” pre­vented him from mak­ing the trip from his home in Grass Val­ley, Calif., to Pearl Har­bor this year. “I’ll be go­ing back next year,” he vowed.

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