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December 7, 2006
11:36am Hawaii time
As the sun reaches high in the sky, the misty clouds begin to clear; it’s like an appropriate symbol, saying that grieving can start to end and the celebration of life can now begin.
In the distance, across the harbor, the Arizona memorial sits majestically, as if it was awaiting a visit by surviving friends. A flagpole rises out of the wreckage, out of the shallow harbor waters. Halfway up, the flag waves at half-mast.
I guess there could not be a more appropriate day for this memorial. I sit as the ceremony ends and I watch total strangers, in some cases two generations removed, approach the survivors. They ask for stories and the request is easily granted.
I meet a family from San Rafael, Calif.; twin 9-year old boys have come with Grandpa. The family stayed for the service and plan a boat ride to the memorial. The boys squeal with anticipation while Grandpa smiles with delight; the kids are too young to realize how happy he must be. Meanwhile, Grandpa may not realize that one day these kids will likely tell their grandchildren about this day.
The lines are nearly empty as people set off to enjoy the day. Families are surely thankful their father/grandfather/uncle or friend survived that day 65 years ago. So many didn't make it alive; I hope they are proud that we have not forgotten. As I think of this, I see a picture that is perfect for the frontpage. A survivor, cane in hand, stops and sticks out his hand to vigorously shake hello with a young sailor in dress whites. The sailor seems happily embarrassed; the survivor is proud to share a moment with the next generation that will secure our country and world.
As one speaker so properly put to the survivors, "You are America at its very best and you truly are America's greatest generation."
December 7, 2006
8:00am Hawaii time
The waters calm, the sky partly cloudy. As the sun rises on this December 7th, there is a certain peace in the air that did not exist 65 years ago.
Sailors are in dress whites, volunteers hold leis, and heroes, veterans and survivors come with children, grandchildren, friends and other relatives. They are presented with the flower, a kiss on the cheek and with smiles that would warm the coldest heart.
Children and families look in awe as so many survivors, some in crisp uniforms that still fit firmly after so many years removed, recognize old friends and remember old times.
In some cases, they may be wheeled in and in others, each step may be a chore — but all proceed with strength in their face and a sparkle in their eye.
Funny thing is, most seemed more excited to see us, shocked we would want to interview them and hear their stories. We are honored, as are so many. Flashes click, handshakes spread and the ceremony begins.
There have been so many moments that send chills up the spine and in some cases, eyes begin to water. Like earlier this week, those moments are found in abundance this morning of December 7, 2006.
From the Hawaiian blessing, to the presentation of the colors, from the Japanese prayer for peace to the national anthem, the ceremony begins with memorable sights and sounds.
The missing man formation flown by F-15 fighters shakes the ground, the jet engines splitting the silence.
Admiral Gary Roughhead, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said it best: "This is an extraordinary generation that answered the call to service and the call to sacrifice."
The USS Russell, an impressive destroyer, now passes by. The sailors in dress whites man the rails and stand at attention. As the ship passes the Arizona Memorial, the survivors stand. Their Hawaiian shirts and uniforms stand out from the crowd even though many have trouble standing straight. They return the salute. The crowd is quiet and once again I feel blessed to witness this day.
December 6, 2006
12:45pm Hawaii time
We arrive back at the visitor center dock. Tourists have lined the path, digital cameras pointed and ready as we leave the boat.
We say our goodbyes and look forward to seeing everyone at the 65th commemoration. As we walk ahead, I look back to see heroes, in some cases defying age, to walk up the ramp. Flashes bounce off the walls and light up faces. Waves are exchanged, people applaud and I feel lucky to be a witness.
12:35pm Hawaii time
We are back on the boat heading across the shallow harbor to the visitor center. Sons and daughters approach us and tell the stories they've heard. One man says his father, now 87, didn't talk about Pearl Harbor — the attack and the horror — until he was 59-years-old. Apparently, one day, he surprised them and opened up.
12:24pm Hawaii time
The men and their families continue to reminisce, the wall of names has been read and names of friends still entombed in this ship have been pointed out. I glance back down the rectangular-shaped memorial and notice a woman.
She has stood from her wheelchair and the golden Hawaiian sun shoots through the open roof, lighting her weathered, but welcoming, face. Her gray hair appears a brilliant silver; it's as if her brother has shone a light from heaven on her face.
I can't ask her name; I can't spoil her moment. She holds a lei and slowly pulls each pink flower petal and watches them gently land on the turquoise waters that provide a clear view of the rusted wreckage below.
I am told she has come here again to visit her brother. She has come to remember one of the over 2,000 victims that, for 65 years, have remained in a grave they never imagined being in. The sister finishes her tribute. The flower petals sweeten the sight and she sits back in her chair to be wheeled back to the boat. I wonder if this will be her last trip here.
12:10pm Hawaii time
We arrive at the memorial, built above the sunken USS Arizona. It has been 15 years since my parents had first brought me here. The images and the tingling I felt as a kid returns. We stand back and watch as the vets and their families peer over the rails, point to the places they escaped from, and the areas they were, in some cases, blown from. Tears are shed, stories told, and, through it all, those of us honored enough to stand back, are in awe. This is truly a historic moment, one that future generations will see in documentaries and read about in books.
11:45am Hawaii time
The first wave of survivors sit down in the theater for a short film recounting the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. As the film plays, I can hear the quiet crying; explosions rock the screen, black and white photos are at times a bit graphic, and the film, from both the American and Japanese reports at the time, is remarkable.
Outside, people who have come to pay their respects treat the veterans like rock stars. They pose for pictures, ask for autographs and, in some cases, stand atop planters to catch a glimpse of these men.
At one point, I interview a veteran who corrects me a bit; he says this club founded on sorrow will not die. Children of survivors will carry on the memories. A young girl chirps next to me, "So will the grandchildren!"
11:00am Hawaii time
They stood at attention. That morning, I am told, was not much different than today.
Puffy clouds provide dramatic breaks from the searing sun. The whites of the Navy faces, the tans and blues of the Marines, all saluting heroes who survived a “day to live in infamy."
Every five years, the survivors and their families make the pilgrimage. The events last nearly a week, leading up to December 7, and on this morning, the men who somehow survived the sinking of the Arizona have come to pay what is likely their last respects to these now tranquil and brilliant turquoise waters. As one survivor tells me, "I am getting too old, the trip from the mainland is now physically too tough. I don't expect to come back."
There are 11 this time, all members of a dying club. Glenn tells me the blast that destroyed the USS Arizona launched him into the water. He would surface for air in burning oil and then swim to the nearby USS Nevada, which was trying to escape the Japanese attack.
Glenn would somehow get pulled onboard. There, with his arms and ears burned, he would man a fire hose and help keep the Nevada afloat. That battleship would later beach itself so as not to block the harbor entrance.
The stories are mesmerizing, and I could stay here for days listening to and envisioning each and every one. As the men make their way around the memorial’s visitor center and prepare for the boat ride to the actual memorial itself, I walk into the little bookstore.
Here, I find a sight that would bring even the stone cold to tears. A TV in the corner plays a documentary of the attack. Its images have drawn a veteran and his daughter, and they stand, watching in silence.
As I watch, I catch a glimpse of his tears. They stream down his cheeks, and his daughter pats his shoulder. I didn't have the heart to interrupt, and I have no idea, no way, to imagine his loss, and his heartache, 65 years after more than 2,000 souls were lost here.
They were men, women, sailors, marines and civilians. Innocent all, and forgotten none.
Adam Housley joined FOX News Channel in 2001 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent. Most recently, Housley reported from Nicaragua and El Salvador on the war against drugs and scored an exclusive interview with Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega. You can read his full bio here.
Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.