Aging Pearl Harbor survivors on Tuesday heard reassurances their sacrifice would be remembered and passed on to future generations as they gathered to mark the 69th anniversary of the attack.
“Long after the last veteran of the war in the Pacific is gone, we will still be here telling their story and honoring their dedication and sacrifice,” National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis told about 120 survivors who traveled to Hawaii from around the country for the event.
Merl Resler, 88, of Newcastle, California, was among those who returned. He remembered firing shots at Japanese planes from the USS Maryland and standing in the blood of a shipmate hit by shrapnel during the attack.
“My teeth was chattering like I was freezing to death, and it was 84° temperature. It was awful frightful,” Resler said.
On Tuesday, fighter jets from the Montana Air National Guard flew above Pearl Harbor in missing man formation to honor those killed in the attack, which sunk the battleship USS Arizona and with it, nearly 1,000 sailors and Marines. In all, about 2,400 service members died.
Sailors lined the deck of the USS Chafee and saluted as the guided missile destroyer passed between the sunken hull of the USS Arizona and the grassy landing where the remembrance ceremony was held.
After the ceremony, the survivors, some in wheelchairs, passed through a “Walk of Honor” lined by saluting sailors, Marines, airmen and soldiers to enter a new US$56 million visitor center that was dedicated at the ceremony.
“This facility is the fulfillment of a promise that we will honor the past,” Jarvis said.
The park service built the new center because the old one, which was built on reclaimed land in 1980, was sinking into the ground.
The old facility was also overwhelmed by its popularity: It received about 1.6 million visitors each year, about twice as many as it was designed for.
People often had to squeeze by one another to view the photos and maps in its small exhibit hall. In comparison, the new center has two spacious exhibition halls with room for more people, as well as large maps and artifacts such as anti-aircraft guns.
There was a minor disruption on the center’s first day when the discovery of an unidentified bag inside one of the galleries prompted the Park Service to briefly evacuate the two exhibit halls and a courtyard. However, the rest of the visitors center remained open and everyone was allowed back in the galleries after the object was determined to be a medical bag carrying oxygen.
US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Patrick Walsh said the new center, which has twice the exhibition space as the old one, would tell the story of those who fought and won the peace.
“This museum gives a view into their lives, a window into the enormity of their task, an appreciation of the heaviness of their burden, the strength of their resolve,” Walsh said.
Assistant Secretary of the Interior Thomas Stickland said the events of Dec. 7, 1941, were so traumatic and marked by heroism that they had become ingrained in the US consciousness.
“That day is now fundamental to who we are as a people. Its stories must be preserved. They must be honored and they must be shared,” Strickland said.
USS Pennsylvania sailor DeWayne Chartier was on his way to church that day, but never made it.
“I got interrupted someplace along the line,” the 93-year-old said.
He returned to Pearl Harbor from Walnut Creek, California, to mark the anniversary and see the dedication of the new center.
“It is my duty. It is not just a visit,” Chartier said. “I felt I should be part of it.”
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