At 7:55 a.m. today, the approximate time when Japanese warplanes dropped out of the sky in a shocking attack on Oahu, a moment of silence was held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in a coronavirus-reduced 79th anniversary of the moment that launched America into World War II.
One of two surviving ship bells from the battleship USS Arizona was tolled a single time in memory of the 2,403 military members and civilians killed on the day of infamy during a ceremony that was not attended by any World War II veterans, or the public, due to the virus.
Three years ago, about 20 Pearl Harbor survivors alone and 2,000 members of the public came out for the commemoration.
Today’s ceremony, which included several speakers, was live-streamed from Contemplation Circle on the national memorial visitor center grounds.
A flight of four Air Force F-22 Raptor fighters flew over a placid Pearl Harbor — with one arcing high into the sky in a “missing man” formation.
“Every year we rightfully honor the heroes who lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941,” Lou Conter, 99, one of two remaining survivors of the Arizona, said in a recorded video presentation from his home in Grass Valley, Calif.
Conter faithfully makes the trip out to Oahu every year that his health allows to remember the 1,177 shipmates who went down on the Arizona when a Japanese aerial bow pierced the bow of the ship and ignited the forward gunpowder magazines.
But this year, COVID-19 prevented Conter and other World War II veterans from making the trip. Instead, Conter paid tribute via video.
“For thousands of people, the first day of the war was also the last day they saw of it,” Conter said. “The loss of those lives showed us what was at stake. At the same time, their courage ignited a spark that rallied Americans all across the country and redefined the meaning of service.”
Rear Adm. Robert Chadwick, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, noted the diminished observance due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I’d like to offer my sincere regrets and most heartfelt aloha to the Pearl Harbor survivors and the other World War II veterans who could not join us here today,” he said during his remarks. “So to the warrior community of that group that we fondly refer to as the Greatest Generation — while you are not here physically, I can assure you you are here in our hearts, in our thoughts and in our gratitude.”
The Pearl Harbor destroyer USS Michael Murphy, a huge American flag flying, conducted a pass-in-review rendering honors to the sunken Arizona and the Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans who couldn’t be there today.
The Michael Murphy was itself recently hit with a COVID-19 outbreak that afflicted nearly a quarter of its approximately 300 crew, but ship personnel were able to bounce back in relatively short order, the Navy previously said.
This year’s theme was “Above and Beyond the Call” and focused on “Battlefield Oahu” and the fact that Dec. 7, 1941, encompassed the entire island of Oahu.
The Navy noted that it lost 1,999 sailors, the Marines 109, Army 16 and Air Force, then the Army Air Forces, 217 lives. The ceremony included a Marine Corps rifle salute and taps.
About five local World War II veterans and their families are expected to be given boat tours out to the Arizona Memorial this morning — with a single family of up to five occupying each 150-person boat to protect against the virus.
As a result, there’s a delayed opening of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to the public until 1 p.m. The first public boat tour will be at 1:30 p.m.
Only five public programs — including the boat trip to the memorial — will be offered on the half-hour, and each boat is limited to 50 people.