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Pearl Harbor attack remembered at 70th anniversary

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 4:15 p.m. HST, Dec 7, 2011

The heroism and sacrifices of military members and civilians 70 years ago today were remembered in a ceremony rich with military pomp and symbolism at the water's edge of Pearl Harbor.

The guided missile destroyer USS Chung Hoon sounded its whistle and rendered honors to those killed in the attack, some still interred in the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, as well as to those still alive who witnessed the act of Japanese aggression on U.S. soil across Oahu.

The Chung Hoon is named after Gordon Paiea Chung-Hoon of Honolulu, who was stationed aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941 and later received the Navy Cross and Silver Star on his way to becoming a rear admiral.

This morning's ceremony included the blowing of conch shells, a Hawaiian blessing by Kahu Kau'ila Clark, a missing man formation flown by modern-day F-22 raptor war planes, a Marine rifle salute and the haunting wail of trumpets blowing "echo taps."

President Barack Obama hailed veterans of the bombing in a statement proclaiming Wednesday "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day."

"Their tenacity helped define the Greatest Generation and their valor fortified all who served during World War II. As a nation, we look to December 7, 1941, to draw strength from the example set by these patriots and to honor all who have sacrificed for our freedoms," he said. 

The USS Arizona Memorial — a national landmark — continues to symbolize the attack on Pearl Harbor, but today's ceremony also honored the men and women across Oahu who witnessed the attack and fought back. 

"Today, our service men and women stationed in Hawaii continue the legacy of honor, courage and commitment of those who served before and witnessed that terrible morning of Dec. 7, 1941," emcee Leslie Wilcox told those who gathered for today's annual ceremony. 

Wilcox reminded the veterans and their families of the toll that spawned the war-time rallying cry of "Remember Pearl Harbor" — 2,351 military and 49 civilian casualties and the destruction or damage to 21 ships and 323 Army and Navy planes.

U.S. and state flags are also being flown at half-staff today in commemoration of the attack.

Wilcox asked military and civilian survivors from the various attack sites to stand in recognition. And those who were able, rose — sometimes wobbly — to applause.

The bell from the USS Arizona sounded as survivors were recognized from the World War II-era installations known as Wheeler Field, Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Ewa Mooring Mast Field, Hickam Field, Bellows Field and Schofield Barracks — as well as from the battleships Utah, West Virgina, Oklahoma, California, Nevada, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Arizona, which alone suffered 1,177 casualties.

A moment of silence, scheduled to begin at  7:55 a.m. — the moment that Japanese fighter planes attacked Pearl Harbor and catapulted America into World War II in 1941 — took place a little later as the program ran long.

Only 334 officers, sailors and Marines survived the attack on the USS Arizona and today 17 sailors and one Marine are still known to be alive. The oldest, Joseph Langdell, is 97.

Seven surviving members of the USS Arizona attended this morning's ceremony, said Dean Harris, president of the USS Arizona Reunion Association. His father, Johan David "Dean" Harris, survived the attack on the Arizona and lived until 2001.

Today's remembrance represents one of the last official acts of the 2,700-member Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which will no longer continue as an incorporated organization on Dec. 31.

And this week's commemoration of Dec. 7, 1941 served as another reminder of the ages of the once young fighting men.

This afternoon, Navy divers plan to return the cremated remains of Vernon Olsen back aboard the sunken hull of his ship, the USS Arizona.

At least two of the seven remaining Arizona survivors also have expressed interest in having their remains returned to their ship, Harris said.

They traveled to Hawaii for today's ceremony from California, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

"Over the years, these men have served their shipmates as ambassadors, Harris said. "These guys are dedicated to perpetuating and memorializing the men who perished on that day. That's why they do this. There's a very strong pull for these guys to be with their shipmates."

Pearl Harbor survivor Don Baldrachi, 93, a retired Army staff sergeant, returned to Hawaii for the first time since a Pearl Harbor commemoration in 1993.

Baldrachi fired at bombers and fighter planes during the attack.

And while the memories of Dec. 7, 1941 came back to him this week, Baldrachi said  the events are never far away in his life Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

"There are seven days in the week and I think about it eight days a week," Baldrachi said. "If I'm not thinking about it, I'm dreaming about it."

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