PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – Work crews turned a Navy aircraft carrier into a party ship for one night on Monday, setting up sound equipment, a massive fireworks display and a makeshift open-air theater for the premiere of Disney's summer blockbuster, Pearl Harbor.
Some 2,000 guests began gathering late in the afternoon on the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis for the 7:30 p.m. screening. A vintage B-25 bomber and a P-40 fighter were displayed on the deck of the 97,000-ton carrier.
Hundreds of enlisted personnel from every military branch cheered and clapped as the first guests to arrive, members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, made their way to the carrier along a pier covered in red carpet. Some rode in wheel chairs, stopping to shake hands and pose for pictures with young sailors and Marines.
"Seeing all these people, it's like coming home again," said Yuell Chandler, 83, who was a 22-year-old Army sergeant stationed off the Pearl Harbor channel during the attack.
The Stennis is moored a few hundred yards from the memorial for some 900 USS Arizona crewmen who went down with the battleship in the first 30 minutes of the surprise attack, which killed about 2,400 Americans.
"I wish all them guys that's in the Arizona was up here instead of me. And all the thousands that got shot up that day. It was a mess," said Chandler, who now lives on Oahu.
The $140 million film opens in movie theaters Friday. It tells the story of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that drew the United States into World War II through the lives of two Army fighter pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) who fall in love with the same nurse (Kate Beckinsale).
It's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay. The pair's earlier partnerships include Armageddon and The Rock.
The $5 million premiere-party is the highlight of a massive promotional effort that includes brochures and movie trailers in Japan, where the movie is scheduled to hit theaters July 14.
Promoters are expecting the movie it to be a hit in Japan, despite the sensitive topic.
The content is not inflammatory to the Japanese because it's not trying to make a political or social statement, said Yoko Kishi, spokeswoman for the distributor Buenavista International Japan.
"We're confident that the film can appeal to a wide audience, from the young to the old," Kishi said. "It's entertainment, a love story."