Pearl Har­bor cer­e­mony

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AMY B WANG From Retropo­lis, a blog about the past, re­dis­cov­ered, at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ retropo­lis

For the first time, no sur­vivors of the USS Ari­zona sink­ing were able to at­tend the an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion. Five re­main, and all are well into their 90s.

Just be­fore 8 a.m. lo­cal time Dec. 7, 1941, Ja­panese war­planes 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 units in the area (“AIR­RAID ON PEARLHARBOR 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 the great­est loss of life oc­curred on the USS Ari­zona: 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, sur­vivors of the sink­ing of the Ari­zona have been a fix­ture at me­mo­ri­als and events mark­ing the at­tack, a date which has in­deed lived in in­famy.

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

Only five Ari­zona sur­vivors are still 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.

In 2014, the Ari­zona Repub­lic news­pa­per vis­ited all re­main­ing USS Ari­zona sur­vivors — nine at the time — and pub­lished ex­ten­sive in­ter­views with them. What emerged were mov­ing sto­ries and re­mem­brances of an at­tack that had pro­foundly 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 ship­mates who did not es­cape.

For years, el­derly sur­vivors of the Ari­zona sink­ing faith­fully re­turned to Oahu to par­tic­i­pate in cer­e­monies to re­mem­ber the at­tack. As in past years, Fri­day’s events in­cluded a mil­i­tary fly­over in the miss­ing man for­ma­tion and the ring­ing of Ari­zona’s bell.

In the Repub­lic’s 2014 re­port­ing, 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.”

Ray Chavez, pre­vi­ously the old­est known sur­vivor, died less than three weeks ago in his sleep, at age 106. In May, Chavez vis­ited Pres­i­dent Trump at the White House, which tweeted a re­mem­brance of the vet­eran af­ter his death.

“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 death of each Ari­zona sur­vivor, how­ever, is a bit­ter­sweet 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 still alive, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs — with about 348 vet­er­ans 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.

One of the five liv­ing sur­vivors, 97-year-old Con­ter, said it was “doc­tor’s or­ders” that pre­vented him from mak­ing the trip from his home in Grass Val­ley, Calif., to Oahu this year, ac­cord­ing to the Union news­pa­per.

But the nona­ge­nar­ian made a pre­dic­tion for the 2019 cer­e­monies, which will be the 78th com­mem­o­ra­tion of the at­tack.

“I’ll be go­ing back next year,” Con­ter told the news­pa­per.

AU­DREY MCAVOY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sur­vivors of the 1941 at­tack on Pearl Har­bor at­tend a re­mem­brance Fri­day in Hawaii. None of the five re­main­ing sur­vivors of the USS Ari­zona sink­ing, all well into their 90s, was able to at­tend.

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