U.S. NAVY PHOTO
The battleships USS West Virginia, USS Tennessee and USS Arizona burn at Pearl Harbor after the surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
Tales of Dec. 7 survival sought
A new Web site hopes to collect the stories of Pearl Harbor survivors
ANSIL L. SAUNDERS speaks carefully into the camera, describing the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when he stood on the deck of a ship at the entry to Pearl Harbor.
"There was explosions coming from all over -- different areas. We looked up and the airplanes was flying around. And, hey, there's the Arizona getting hit," Saunders says, raising his hands for emphasis. "And that was the first wave."
A private group supporting the USS Arizona Memorial posted Saunders' 4 1/2-minute video clip, along with the oral testaments, photos and letters of other survivors, on a new Web site created to preserve memories of the attack 65 years ago. The site was launched Friday.
Supporters of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Project urgently feel the need to gather the stories now because the youngest of those who survived the attack are now in their 80s and many are dying. Saunders died on May 25 at age 87.
"There's an hourglass that's dropping sand every day," said Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial Park.
Visitors to the Web site (www.pearlharborstories.org) see photos of survivors and their own unique tales -- how they joined the military and how they got to be at Pearl Harbor, or other Hawaii military installations, on the day of the Japanese assault.
The site asks survivors who haven't recorded their stories to register and do so, via the Web or over the phone if they prefer.
Martinez said he hopes civilians who lived through the attack -- and their families -- would submit their memories as well, because their perspectives are important to the full story of what happened.
He gave as an example the three local men who were killed at Hickam Air Force Base after they responded to a call for help from the Honolulu Fire Department.
Or the experience of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, 81, who raised his fist at the invading planes in frustration when he was a 17-year-old Japanese-American high school student.
"That's the kind of story that can emanate from Hawaii and let people know in Dubuque, Iowa, what it was like to be a person of Japanese-American ancestry and what they went through," Martinez said.
Alby Saunders, 54, son of Ansil Saunders and a board member of the Arizona Memorial Museum Association, said he would be pleased if the site deepens the public's knowledge of the attack.
"I hope the site helps to perpetuate the stories to be handed down even beyond our times. Because once they're gone, they're gone forever," Saunders said. "To document them, to describe them, is important particularly at this time."
The National Park Service already has on file audio and video recordings of some 450 interviews of survivors taken over the past 20 years, Martinez said. The new Web site may help this number grow by the thousands, he said.