PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – Survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor observed a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. this morning in Hawaii.
It was the exact time that Japanese bombers launched the surprise attack 64 years ago. When the two-hour attack was over, there were 21 U.S. ships sunk or damaged, and about 2,400 Americans were dead.
It is estimated that 5,800 survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor are still living. At Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy plans honor the USS Arizona, which lies submerged in the water with the bodies of hundreds of sailors still aboard.
The Hawaii Air National Guard will fly F-15's in missing-man formation over the harbor, and the Navy's top uniformed officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, will give the keynote speech.
Veterans gathered on the battleship New Jersey in Camden today to commemorate the attack. A wreathe ceremony on the ship's forward deck honored those who lost their lives that day.
Nebraskans are being asked to observe the anniversary of the attack on by flying flags at half-staff. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry will be on hand for the Veteran's Memorial Garden Ceremony in Lincoln at 11:55 a.m.
Some Wisconsin World War II vets who served at Pearl Harbor recall Dec. 7, 1941, as a quiet Sunday morning before it was shattered by the surprise attack from the Japanese.
Firman Balza of Green Bay was just 18 at the time and onboard the USS Maryland when U.S. military installations in and around Pearl Harbor were attacked. Balza was assigned to one of the ship's broadside guns and spent the day passing ammo to gun crews.
The Maryland took some hits, but stayed afloat, unlike the battleship next to it, the Oklahoma, which capsized during the attack.
Balza says it wasn't until recently that he began to tell other people about his experiences at Pearl Harbor. He will be the keynote speaker at a memorial ceremony at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King. Balza says he's telling the stories of Pearl Harbor for "the guys that can't."
Five Chattanooga-area servicemen who survived Pearl Harbor said they remain bonded by Japan's air assault on the Pacific Fleet that changed their lives Dec. 7, 1941.
Rossville's Chuck Brock; Chattanooga's Jack Calhoun; Red Bank's James "Shorty" Sherrell; Dayton's Carl Best; and Charlie Schwieger, of Winchester, Tenn., planned to meet Wednesday for lunch at the Formosa Restaurant near Northgate Mall.
"We're pretty much a family, the few of us we have left," Calhoun said. "We meet one day a month and talk about everything except Pearl Harbor." The topic comes up every once in a while but not often, he said.
"We know each other's story," he said. Calhoun, 86, described the surprise attack on U.S. air and naval forces at Pearl Harbor as the "shortest day of my life."
The former director of the nuclear power division of TVA was an electronics mate 1st class aboard the destroyer USS Dale when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He documented the happenings of that day in a 424-page book he completed for his family's use in 1991.
"One thing for sure, that's not the last Pearl Harbor," Calhoun said. "It's something you can't prevent.
"(Sept. 11, 2001) was a Pearl Harbor day, too," he said. "We have to face up to the fact it will happen again someday."
Calhoun calls Sherrell the hero of the group. "The USS San Francisco was in more battles than any other ship," Calhoun said. "(Sherrell) stood on the deck of that ship and saw the USS Juneau sink in 20 seconds with all hands on board."
Sherrell, 85, said he was without guns and ammunition in preparation for being put into dry dock. "I really didn't see a whole lot, because when a battleship started turning over in the harbor, the officer of the day felt it would be safer for us to go under deck," he said. Sherrell said no one was killed on the San Francisco during the attack, but 198 crewmembers later died during the battle of Guadalcanal.
"I was either lucky, or God was watching over me," he said. "They say everyone has a guardian angel, and I think I must have one."
He said he looks forward to meeting each month with his fellow Pearl Harbor survivors.
"We're all pretty close," he said. "We just blab, blab, blab about what is going on around us today. But sometimes we talk about Pearl Harbor, and it gets on your mind and stays there a long time."
Best, 88, and his wife, Lema, both were at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Lema Best said her husband talked to a group at a class in Evensville, Tenn., Tuesday about his Pearl Harbor experience. She said she and her husband were driving toward Pearl Harbor when the attack took place.
"Our car was stopped, and Carl was ordered to make the remaining journey in a car with other servicemen," she said.
Carl Best said waves of Japanese attacks continued, and planes strafed traffic moving toward the harbor.
"There were a lot of cars being machine-gunned and bombed, and when one was hit, we would get out and push it out of the way and get in another one," he said.
Brock, 88, is a retired Fort Oglethorpe post office superintendent. He was on the USS West Virginia when six Japanese torpedoes rocked the ship and knocked him from side to side. He said he remembers the attack "every day, every week and every month."
"The sounds were terrible that day," Brock said. "And the feeling was just awful."
In Oklahoma there are 52 known survivors of the attack, including 83-year-old Roland Nee of Rush Springs.
Nee was an 18-year-old artilleryman preparing to eat breakfast when the attack began and as he ran to his post he slipped and fell as a Japanese plane strafed the area. Nee says the bullets missed him and killed a soldier behind him.
Quartermaster striker Arles Cole of Porum was relaxing on board the USS West Virginia when the bombing started and noticed that the American flag had not yet been raised on board the ship. Cole grabbed the biggest U.S. flag he could find, shimmied to the end of the flagpole and tied off the flag.
In Connecticut, there are eight survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. Tom Nerkowski says his most vivid memories are of how slippery the blood was on the stainless-steel quarterdeck, of fellow sailors burned black, of bodies covered with blood-stained sheets.
He was a carpenter on the USS Solace hospital ship when the Japanese attack took place. He's 86, the average age of Pearl Harbor survivors.
In Maryland, where there are reported to be 104 Pearl Harbor survivors, the Baltimore Maritime Museum and National Historic Seaport of Baltimore are hosting a memorial service at the Inner Harbor. It's set to begin at 11:45 a.m. aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Taney the last ship from the attack still afloat.