PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a clear sky over the Pearl Harbor naval base was suddenly raining bombs, as Japanese warplanes carried out the mission that would pull the U.S. into World War II.
President Bush and 25 living witnesses to the Japanese air raid gathered with hundreds of uniformed sailors Friday on the deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise.
The president marked the anniversary of the attack and honored U.S. forces responding to the September terrorist attacks.
"Like all fascists, the terrorists cannot be appeased. They must be defeated. This struggle will not end in a truce or a treaty. It will end in victory for the United States, our friends and for the cause of freedom," Bush said to a roar of approval.
"The attack on Pearl Harbor was plotted in secrecy, waged without mercy," Bush said on the carrier, docked in Norfolk, Va.
"Out of that surprise attack grew a steadfast resolve that made America freedom's defender, and that mission – our great calling – continues to this hour as the brave men and women of our military fight the forces of terror in Afghanistan and around the world."
The military personnel surrounding Bush, most of whom had just returned from duty in the war on the Taliban, hooted and whooped at the words of their commander in chief.
Before coming here from the White House, Bush signed a proclamation declaring Friday National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and called upon all federal offices to fly their flags at half-staff on this and every Dec. 7 in honor of the service personnel who died at Pearl Harbor.
"As we fight to defend what we believe is right, we remember the sacrifice of those who have gone before us – not only the heroes of Pearl Harbor, but all the men and women of the greatest of generations who defeated tyranny," Bush said in his proclamation.
In the midst of the U.S.'s latest effort, Pearl Harbor survivors have convened in Hawaii to honor those who were killed during the Japanese assault.
"The whole world changed for us," said 84-year-old Douglas Phillips of Easton, Md., who was on the USS Ramsay during the attack.
Survivors are attaching special meaning to the services in Hawaii this year. As many of them are in their 80s, this may be their last trip to Pearl Harbor.
Dozens of veterans, many wearing garrison caps embossed with their ships' names, attended ceremonies and speeches on Oahu this week. Stories about the lost servicemen have evoked complex sentiments, they said. Many described feeling a mixture of camaraderie, honor, gratitude and guilt.
The surprise attack that Sunday morning on Pearl Harbor and other military bases on Oahu went on for two hours and left 21 U.S. ships heavily damaged, 323 aircraft damaged or destroyed, 2,390 people dead and 1,178 other wounded.
Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida led the first wave of Japanese planes, which began bombing at 7:50 a.m. Fuchida sent the coded "tora, tora, tora," message to his pilots to tell them the attack had begun successfully.
"Coming in at low altitude, we saw American sailors on the decks of the cruisers, looking up in shock and wondering what was going on," said torpedo plane pilot Taisuke Maruyama, trading war stories with American survivors on the eve of Friday's ceremonies.
Seven of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's nine battleships were moored along Ford Island, extremely vulnerable to attack.
A 1,760-pound bomb thundered the deck of the USS Arizona, causing the ship with 1,177 crew aboard to sink in less than nine minutes. To this day, oil continues to seep from the ship's sunken hull.
Friday morning, some survivors, military brass and other dignitaries planned to gather on the small USS Arizona Memorial for prayers, wreath presentations and a 21-gun salute.
A larger ceremony was scheduled at the nearby National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific overlooking Honolulu, and the Hawaii Air National Guard planned to fly F-15 jets over the area in the "missing man" formation.
Hundreds of family members of New York City police officers, firefighters and rescue workers lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have also been visiting the memorial this week as guests of the state and local businesses.
Laura Sheppard lost her 60-year-old father, New York firefighter Dennis Cross, in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It truly is sacred ground," she said, "just like the World Trade Center is now."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.