Planners of the 75th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks on Oahu are optimistic that either an aircraft carrier or “big deck” amphibious assault ship and vintage aircraft will participate in the milestone commemoration, which likely will be the last major hurrah for a rapidly dwindling number of Pearl Harbor survivors.
President Barack Obama has been invited along with Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Heads of state, members of Congress and governors from states that had battleship namesakes in Pearl Harbor are expected to attend.
The invitation list for officials from Japan — with the passage of 75 years now one of America’s staunchest allies — along with dignitaries from other countries, is being left up to the U.S. State Department. No Japanese prime minister has visited Pearl Harbor since the war, reflecting the sensitivities that remain.
The framework of what will be an international event was laid out Monday by the 75th Commemoration of Pearl Harbor Committee, which announced the launch of what it said will be an “unprecedented series of events” with the theme of “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future.”
Media coverage is expected to reach millions worldwide, with simulcasts to be offered at locations ranging from Waikiki Beach to possibly New York’s Times Square.
“The theme is honoring the past and inspiring the future — so the whole intent behind all of the events is to try to find a way to actually do that, to bridge generations, and to set the groundwork for what is ahead beyond Dec. 7, 2016,” said organizer Tony Vericella.
Eleven days of programs dedicated to America’s “Greatest Generation” and the warriors who have followed since then will be centered around National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. A lot of focus, as always, will be on the sunken USS Arizona, which suffered the greatest loss of life: 1,177 crew members.
But the events also will include memorials for USS Utah and USS Oklahoma crews, and reconciliation embodied in the “Blackened Canteen Ceremony” that’s tied to a B-29 bomber crash in Japan. The crew was buried by the Japanese. The recovered relic is used in an offering of peace by pouring whiskey from the canteen into the waters of Pearl Harbor.
The eventsadditionally include a Pearl Harbor documentary film premiere, an historic movie series on Waikiki Beach, a Pearl Harbor survivor gala tribute, a luncheon honoring Japanese-American units and a “world class” concert planned for Aloha Stadium.
Each year, the U.S. government tries to do justice to the memory and significance of the surprise Japanese attacks that launched America into World War II and the defenders who rushed to man battle stations and then methodically, and with terrible sacrifice, went on to reclaim the Pacific.
This year, however, there is an urgency to commemorating the major anniversary with ever-fewer survivors.
“This is a special tribute,” said retired Adm. Tom Fargo, former head of U.S. Pacific Command and chairman of the commemoration committee. “If you were 18 on Dec. 7, 1941, you’ll be 93 when we celebrate this commemoration, so our effort is very clearly to honor our greatest generation.”
Just six crew members from the USS Arizona are still alive. Five are expected, with the sixth in poor health.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a Japanese task force that included six aircraft carriers launched a wave of 183 planes, and then 167 to 171 more, in a surprise attack to cripple the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. A total of 2,335 U.S. service members and 68 civilians were killed.
Recognizing that Defense Department budgets are tight while Navy demands remain great around the world, the 75th-anniversary committee remains hopeful to get an aircraft carrier for the event.
“We’re working very closely with the Pacific Command,” Fargo said. “As you know, our aircraft carriers are fully engaged in the Western Pacific and Middle East right now. Their (operational tempo) is very high. Many of the deployments exceed six months.”
Despite that, Fargo said the group is “optimistic that we’ll have a big deck for the event — either an aircraft carrier or a large-deck amphibious ship.”
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor board President Clint Churchill, who is on the commemoration committee, said he’s seeking to have vintage Navy and Army Air Corps planes shipped over on the flattop for flyovers during commemoration events.
“It’s a matter of what comes together — how much space we’ll have on the carrier (and) whether the whole thing gets approved,” he said.
The list of aircraft includes a P-40 fighter, SBD Dauntless, F4U Corsair, P-51 Mustang and PBY Catalina, Churchill said.
The Pearl Harbor commemoration will be held on Kilo Pier on the Navy base across from the sunken Arizona. About 6,000 people turned out for the 70th anniversary of Dec. 7, committee members said.
How many will come out this year, with the possibility of the president and many other officials taking part, is still unclear. The Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 11 is expected to bring in thousands more.
The vast majority of the 75th-anniversary events will be open to the public, organizers said.
“We recognize that this is something the community wants to be involved in,” Fargo said. “And we’re going to try and provide as much access as we possibly can.”
Go to pearlharbor75thanniversary.com for visitor information and Dec. 7, 1941, history, and Twitter at #pearlharbor75 for updates.
DEC. 7 EVENTS
>> 7:45 to 9:15 a.m.: Kilo Pier, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration
>> 7:50 a.m.: Atterbury Circle, Hickam AFB. Attack on Hickam Field Ceremony & Reception
>> 9 a.m.: Officers’ Club Lanai, Hickam AFB. Brunch With Veterans
>> 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. Freedom Bell Ringing
>> Noon to 1 p.m.: Battleship Missouri Memorial. 75th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Mass Band Performance
>> 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.: USS Oklahoma Memorial, Ford Island. USS Oklahoma Memorial Ceremony
>> 3 to 3:30 p.m.: Fort DeRussy. 25th Infantry Division Commemoration Ceremony
>> 4 to 5:30 p.m.: USS Arizona Memorial. Internment Ceremony
>> 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Kalakaua Avenue. Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade
>> 7:30 to 10 p.m.: Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki Outdoor Theater. Navy-themed movie