DECEMBER 7, 1999
FOR the last time this century, veteran survivors of the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor stood this morning at the USS Arizona Memorial and silently bowed their heads at 7:55 -- the exact time the bombs started to fall.
The 20 men mourned the loss of thousands of Americans on that day 58 years ago. They also grieved that there are so few survivors still alive.
"Most have gone," said Hawaii-born Dr. Rodney West, 89, assigned to the Ford Island dispensary during the attack. "There's nobody to talk to."
The veterans also worry that the ultimate sacrifices made during the Pearl Harbor attack will be forgotten when none of them is left.
"I'm afraid they will forget," said Edward Borucki, 79, a Navy yeoman assigned to Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Borucki came from Massachusetts with a son and two grandsons to attend today's commemoration.
"That's why I take my sons and grandsons to the battlefield, to carry on the tradition in 10-15 years. I wish all Pearl Harbor attack veterans would bring their sons and daughters, to remember Pearl Harbor and to keep it alive."
Because their numbers are dwindling, veterans said they hope Dec. 7 will become a national holiday so that the nation always pays full tribute to the 2,388 military personnel and civilians killed the day. It was the day that brought America into World War II "up to the neck and into the death," in the words of Great Britain's wartime leader, Winston Churchill.
Veterans and military and civilian officials crowded the USS Arizona Memorial this morning to remember the attack, lay wreaths in honor of the dead, and ponder the lessons of a past war that the world should take into the next millennium.
"The attack on Pearl Harbor is an event that has been burned into our consciousness, and in many ways it has touched almost every American life," said Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, in remarks at the ceremony.
"No single event is more central to our concept of a national tragedy and national conviction than the events of Dec. 7."
"The individual stories of loss," Fargo said, included 36 sets of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona. Of those 75 brothers, 61 perished in the attack and only a single set of brothers survived.
The ceremony started with prayers and a blast from the guided missile destroyer USS Hopper at 7:55 a.m., starting a moment of silence throughout Pearl Harbor. The Hawaii Air National Guard roared above in F-15s flying a "missing man" formation in which one aircraft broke away from the others. Representatives from all of the armed services and others from veteran and military-related organizations -- 40 total -- dropped flowers into the harbor through the well of the memorial.
The program ended with a rifle salute by the Navy Rifle Detail standing at attention atop the marker where the USS Vestal sunk next to the Arizona. And then taps echoed throughout Pearl Harbor, where 21 U.S. warships sank and 165 aircraft were destroyed.
Hawaii-born Richard "Ike" Sutton, a lieutenant commander in logistics who survived the attack on the Arizona, has attended every ceremony held at Pearl Harbor except for when he studied on the mainland. And every time the 85-year-old feels the pain.
"It's awful sad," he said. "I saw so many killed."