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Pearl Harbor Day: Nation promises survivors it will never forget

December 7, 2011 |  1:27 pm

A grateful nation delivered a heartfelt message Wednesday morning to the dwindling number of survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack: Rest easy. We'll take it from here. Allow us to repay the debt by carrying your burden.

On the face of it, the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack wasn't all that different from previous commemorations. A ceremony was held overlooking the picturesque harbor. And a moment of silence was observed, as is traditional, at the precise moment that the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack by the Japanese began, at 7:55 a.m. local time.

But there was a solemn subtext to this ceremony, which was attended by about 120 survivors, some of whom struggled to their feet to accept the applause offered up by the thousands in attendance. Age is catching up with the survivors of Pearl Harbor. Fewer can make the trek to Hawaii each year for the official ceremony.

PHOTOS: A day that will live in infamy

And their dwindling numbers prompted the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn. to announce during the ceremonies that it will cease official business duties due to members' age and illness, although it will continue to be a conduit for "social interchanges and comradeship."

The reality is that in the not-so-distant future, there will be no more witnesses to the horrific attack that killed 2,400 Americans, sunk 12 ships and destroyed 188 aircraft. And there is a palpable fear on behalf of those aging survivors, and the families of those killed, that the nation might let down its guard in the face of danger or forget the sacrifices made by those both dead and still living.

As a result, Wednesday's ceremony was as much about expressing gratitude to those men and women as it was to assure survivors that the nation will never forget that momentous day that paved the way for America's entry into World War II and led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Dec. 7 a "date which will live in infamy."

"Future generations will never forget what happened at Pearl Harbor," was the message from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. "The message of Pearl harbor will never be erased," Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz told those survivors in attendance. "We must never forget," vowed U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

Members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn. expect those promises will be kept long after they are gone. William Muehleib, who will go down in history as the last president of the official Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn., told those in attendance that he would accept nothing less: "You sitting in the audience must be the guardians of our truth."


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Pearl Harbor survivor Herb Weatherwax is helped to his feet during the memorial ceremony held Wednesday at the harbor where the surprise attack took place. Credit: Marco Garcia / Associated Press