Di­min­ish­ing group of sur­vivors gath­ers at Pearl Har­bor

The Sun Herald - - Nation & World - BY AMY B WANG

Just be­fore 8 a.m. lo­cal time Dec. 7, 1941, Ja­panese fighter planes shat­tered the Sun­day quiet at Pearl Har­bor in Hawaii. It was an at­tack on the United States that would soon thrust the coun­try 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, about 300 sur­vived. The ship it­self 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 USS Ari­zona be­fore it sunk have been a fix­ture at me­mo­ri­als and events mark­ing the at­tack, a day which has in­deed lived in in­famy.

About 20 sur­vivors at­tended this year’s ob­ser­vance at Pearl Har­bor on Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports. But, for the first time in more than seven decades, there were no sur­vivors from the USS Ari­zona present when of­fi­cials com­mem­o­rated the 77th an­niver­sary of the at­tack.

Five USS Ari­zona sur­vivors are alive: Lau­ren Bruner, 98, Lou Con­ter, 97, Lon­nie Cook, 98, Ken Potts, 97, and Don Strat­ton, 96. None was able to travel to Oahu this year, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

The Ari­zona Repub­lic in 2014 vis­ited all re­main­ing USS Ari­zona sur­vivors — there were nine alive at the time — and pub­lished ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with the 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 Trump in 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.

“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.”

The pass­ing of each USS Ari­zona sur­vivor, how­ever, is a re­minder that we are in­creas­ingly fur­ther re­moved from one of the most vis­cer­ally shock­ing events in U.S. his­tory.

Fewer than 500,000 vet­er­ans of World War II are alive, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs — with about 348 WWII vet­er­ans dy­ing each day.

AU­DREY MCAVOY AP

Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors salute dur­ing the na­tional an­them at a cer­e­mony in Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii, on Fri­day mark­ing the 77th an­niver­sary of the Ja­panese at­tack.

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