Just before 8 a.m. local time on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes shattered the Sunday quiet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was an attack on the United States that would soon thrust the country into World War II.
Despite a radiogram that was urgently pushed to all U.S. military in the area (“AIRRAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NO DRILL”), the surprise attack destroyed or damaged more than a dozen U.S. ships and hundreds of aircraft.
More than 2,400 Americans were killed. But it was the USS Arizona that suffered the greatest human loss: Of the 1,512 on board, only about 300 survived. The ship itself rests at the bottom of the harbor — along with the remains of hundreds of victims.
Over the decades, those who were able to escape the USS Arizona have been a fixture at memorials and events marking the attack, a day which has indeed lived in infamy.
But on Friday, for the first time in more than seven decades, there were no survivors from the USS Arizona present when officials commemorated the 77th anniversary of the attack.
There are now only five USS Arizona survivors still alive: Lauren Bruner, 98; Lou Conter, 97; Lonnie Cook, 98; Ken Potts, 97; and Don Stratton, 96. None was able to travel to Oahu this year.
About 20 survivors gathered at Pearl Harbor on Friday to pay tribute to the thousands of men lost in the surprise Japanese attack.
They joined dignitaries, active duty troops and members of the public in observing a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the time the bombing began.
Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said the nation can never forget the heavy price paid on that day. He cited 21 vessels damaged or sunk, 170 planes destroyed. The more than 2,400 people who died included servicemen and civilians.
Number of survivors declining
“Despite these losses, it did not break the American spirit. In fact, it charged it,” he said in a keynote address.
The survivors are declining in number as they push well into their 90s, and are increasingly treated as celebrities. They say people ask for their autographs and request to take photos and selfies with them.
“I am given a lot of attention and honor. I shake hands continuously,” said Tom Berg, who lives in Port Townsend, Wash. Berg, who is 96, served on the USS Tennessee.
Dozens of those killed in the attack have been recently identified and reburied in cemeteries across the country after the military launched a new effort to analyze bones and DNA of hundreds long classified as “unknowns.”
In 2015, 388 sets of remains were exhumed from the USS Oklahoma and buried in a national cemetery in Honolulu. The Oklahoma had the second-highest number of dead after the Arizona at 429, though only 35 were identified in the immediate years after the attack.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified 168 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma since the exhumations three years ago. It has said it expects to identify about 80 percent of the 388 by 2020.
Several families reburied their newly identified loved ones on Friday, including Navy Seaman 1st Class William Bruesewitz of Appleton, Wis. His remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.