More than 2,000 World War II veterans and other observers commemorated the 67th anniversary of the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

At 7:55 a.m., the moment on the Sunday morning in 1941 when hundreds of Japanese planes began raining bombs and torpedoes onto Oahu's U.S. military ships and planes, onlookers across from the sunken USS Arizona went silent.

"It was an impossible beginning," Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in his address. "Yet, look at us today." He noted that Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard recently celebrated 100 years of service and still maintains the far-reaching U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Underscoring how far Americans and Japanese have come since Dec. 7, 1941, President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago introduced retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, a Japanese American born in Hawaii a year after the attack, as his nominee to head the U.S. Veteran Affairs Department.

Several survivors of the attack were on hand for the commemoration, including one American veteran who traveled to Pearl Harbor for the very first time since World War II end ed.

Sgt. John W. Eriksson of Mountain Home, Ark., was a Marine Corps rifleman assigned to an anti-aircraft battery when the attack began. But all he had to fire back was a pre-World War I bolt-action rifle.

"I felt I had to come back," he said of his first trip to a commemoration ceremony.

After the moment of silence observing the beginning of the attack, the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon rendered honors to the Arizona, which still lies beneath the harbor with its dead.

Nearly 2,400 Americans were killed and nearly 1,180 injured when Japanese fighters bombed and sank 12 naval vessels and heavily damaged nine others.

The Arizona, which sank in less than nine minutes after an armor-piercing bomb breached its deck and exploded in the ship's ammunition magazine, lost 1,177 sailors and marines. About 340 of its crew survived.

Other major installations on Oahu, such as Wheeler Field and Kaneohe Naval Air Station, also were attacked.

This year's ceremony came weeks after construction began on a new visitor's center for the USS Arizona Memorial. The existing center, which was built 28 years ago on reclaimed land, is sinking. Officials have said it will be unusable in a few years.

The event was held a half-mile away at Kilo Pier of Naval Station Pearl Harbor, site for next year's commemoration as well. The new visitor's center is scheduled to open Dec. 7, 2010.