HONOLULU — On the back lawn of the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center here, a crowd had gathered Thursday morning. Yet it was eerily quiet.
The time was 7:55 a.m., exactly 59 years to the minute after bombs broke the morning silence of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, for 130 minutes of pure hell.
It was on that morning that Japanese fighter pilots carried out a surprise attack on the military bases at Pearl Harbor. More than 2,000 people were killed and many ships were sunk.
But it was not the memory of then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proclamation of “a day that will live in infamy forever,” nor the emotional words of survivors that made this anniversary so unique.
For just the fourth time in nearly six decades, survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack and members of the Japanese Imperial Navy came together on the same stage.
They came together at the site where they had first met — greeted by snake-like torpedoes and a shower of missiles.
The arsenal was traded for handshakes and even a few hugs Thursday.
Japanese Arch Bishop Eiki Ikeda made his 19th consecutive trip to the memorial celebration to deliver a prayer, but this time he was not the lone Japanese representative.
About 300 former members of the Japanese Navy came to Pearl Harbor, seated no more than 10 feet away from many survivors of their attack.
As a military bell sliced the silence like a knife nine times — once for each of the ships in port on that fateful day — a memorial wreath was placed on the harbor’s shores for each vessel.
Pearl Harbor Day, one of the most notable days in American history, will forever be known as the unofficial catapult which pushed the United States into World War II.
Under a canopy surrounded by palm trees on all sides, the crowd sat with straight faces as President Roosevelt’s grandson, Delano, addressed the survivors, the Japanese guests and the hundreds of others gathered to remember the 2,388 U.S. military personnel and citizens who died 59 years ago.
“As a trustee, I have the opportunity to recognize my grandfather and those who put forth effort in the war,” he said.
“But on a personal level, I am ensuring that the younger generation — including my two boys — will have the Arizona Memorial around to learn the truth about what happened and not some reenactment by a Hollywood producer.”
Pearl Harbor will be remembered again soon, as Touchstone Pictures has Memorial Day 2001 slated for the opening of “Pearl Harbor,” a feature film starring Ben Affleck and Dan Aykroyd.
The memorial is named after the USS Arizona, which still sits at the bottom of the harbor.
Tears fell as Chaplain Joe Morgan offered a prayer of remembrance for those lost, and Clark Simmons spoke softly as he gave the keynote address, wiping his own eyes as he often looked skyward, as if speaking directly to the clouds.
Both men are survivors of the attack.
“We were young men trying to do our duty,” said Simmons, who served aboard the USS Utah in 1941. “It was a day much like today. All of us watched as the Japanese fleet were in striking distance of the United States naval base here in Pearl Harbor.”
Simmons gave a plethora of numbers recounting the grim events, concluding by saying, “I was one of those injured.”
Survivors, selected civilians and current park rangers assisted in placing the wreaths. The wreath ceremony was finalized with a 21-gun salute to the tune of taps. But this time, tears, not bombs, fell to the ground.
Approximately 2000 purple orchids were offered into the calm waters of Pearl Harbor at the end of the memorial, each with a different veteran in mind. The crowd exited singing “America the Beautiful.”
Some who chose to place an orchid in the harbor stood alone in silence, taking a moment to reflect.
“It’s just wonderful to see that so many come for something like this,” said Everett Hyland, who was wounded aboard the USS Pennsylvania. “It’s a warm feeling to know what you and the others did is not forgotten.”
Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]