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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 26, 2006

65 years later, Pearl Harbor survivors still do their duty

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

In past years the USS Arizona Memorial has hosted the Pearl Harbor remembrance. This year it will be at Kilo Pier, across the memorial.


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“I doubt if we will ever be back as a group again. It’s not a question of age. It’s a question of their ability to get around and to travel. It’s too difficult now.”

— Mal Middlesworth | national president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association

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Pearl Harbor survivors Durward Swanson, left, and Mal Middlesworth, president of the survivors association, are in town for the events.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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After the attack, a small boat rescued a seaman from the burning USS West Virginia, with the USS Tennessee smoking nearby.


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Moored inboard of the USS Oklahoma, which capsized, the USS Maryland was damaged slightly during the attack on Pearl Harbor.


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Survivors of the USS Oklahoma posed aboard the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor for the 60th anniversary. Their ranks have thinned, but some will see ground broken Dec. 7 for a long-awaited Oklahoma memorial.


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History will always remember them as young men whose innocence died on a Sunday morning amid the roar of attacking divebombers.

They were the first of their generation to feel the sucker punch of a torpedo on a ship's hull. The first to raise arms against the Japanese attackers. The first to grieve for fallen shipmates at Pearl Harbor, a place many Americans had never heard of before Dec. 7, 1941.

But history will recall something else. In surviving, they shouldered a duty to remember.

They will honor that obligation next week, just as they have for decades, but with a difference this time that none can ignore.

For many, the 65th anniversary of the attack will likely be their last hurrah.

An estimated 350 to 400 survivors — men now in their 80s and 90s — will attend the ceremony on the shore of Pearl Harbor. They are part of a larger group of 1,800 that includes family members.

When they gathered five years ago for the 60th anniversary — an event many at the time also called the last great reunion — more than 750 survivors came.

"There is a bit of melancholy to this one," said Mal Middlesworth, national president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. "We will probably not see a whole lot of people here again."

The national group has held a reunion in Hawai'i every five years since 1964.

"I doubt if we will ever be back as a group again," Middlesworth said. "It's not a question of age. It's a question of their ability to get around and to travel. It's too difficult now."

Another 2,000 people — invited guests and the public — are expected to attend, swelling the annual gathering to nearly 4,000 people. That large a crowd would have overwhelmed the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center, the site of many previous ceremonies, so the Navy will allow the gathering to take place on Kilo Pier, directly across from the USS Arizona Memorial.


More families are coming than ever before, with three and four generations traveling for the event, Middlesworth said.

"They are bringing their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren," he said. "One man who is bringing 30 people has shown them videos on Pearl Harbor and before they get on a plane, they have to pass a test."

Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service historian at the Arizona Memorial, said the decision by the national group to not come back to Hawai'i "speaks volumes." And Martinez, who has been at the memorial since 1985, finds that uncomfortable to think about.

"It's a fading of a generation," he said. "They are embracing their mortality."

He has watched the survivors age, watched them go from buddies who traveled to Hawai'i with their wives for golf, dinners and the anniversary, to men in the twilight of their lives. The 60th anniversary started a trend of more family participation among survivors that extends to visits year-round, Martinez said.

"I strongly suspect that long after the survivors can no longer come to Hawai'i there will be family members who will come," he said. "What we are talking about is legacy. This is where we depart from the physical memory of so many survivors and start moving into the legacy of Pearl Harbor. It is going to be passed on to the next generation."


Special events will mark the anniversary, including panel discussions of the attack by scholars, authors and survivors, the unveiling of a new scale model of the USS Arizona and the grand opening of the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island. Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw will be the keynote speaker at the Kilo Pier ceremony.

Groundbreaking is also scheduled Dec. 7 for the USS Oklahoma Memorial, which will also be on Ford Island. The battleship capsized about 12 minutes after it was hit by a Japanese torpedo, resulting in the deaths of 429 sailors and Marines. The loss of life was second only to that aboard the USS Arizona.

About $250,000 has been raised for the memorial, but $500,000 is still needed, said Paul Goodyear, an 88-year-old Oklahoma survivor who has championed the effort to create a memorial for several years.

The groundbreaking comes amid a tough year for Goodyear's former shipmates. The survivors held a reunion in April, but 11 of them have died since then, he said.

"I don't think hardly any of us will be back in five years," said Goodyear, who lives in Casa Grande, Ariz., and will travel to Hawai'i for the ceremony.

Goodyear estimates 105 Oklahoma survivors are left and said they, and their families, desperately want a memorial built soon.

"I'm pretty sure it is going to be an emotional time for everybody," he said. "We feel so strongly that the Arizona has just overshadowed and grabbed all the attention from these kids. Those kids were absolutely forgotten."


Lisa Ridge, a schoolteacher from Sullivan, Ind., will attend the ceremony to honor her grandfather, Petty Officer Paul Nash, a fire controlman first class aboard the Oklahoma. Goodyear asked her to speak on behalf of the Oklahoma families.

"For me, it is for my grandmother and my mother, for personal reasons, to bring some closure for them," Ridge said. "My mother passed away in 2001 but my grandmother is still living. She is in a nursing home. She has Alzheimer's and doesn't know any of us anymore. I want to do this for them."

None of her family has ever visited Pearl Harbor or the Arizona Memorial.

"It was too emotionally difficult, I think," she said.

And despite her love of history, Ridge never felt the tug to visit this painful place.

"I was never really drawn out there until now," she said. "Now I feel I really need to go."


Among the survivors planning to attend will be 10 men who escaped the inferno that was the stricken USS Arizona, flagship image of the battle lost.

Young men no more, they are traveling with a much larger contingent of 180 family members registered with the USS Arizona Reunion Association.

Their ranks have thinned since the 60th anniversary, when 22 survivors made the trip, said Ruth Campbell, reunion coordinator. Her group is shrinking, too, down 11 men in the last two years. Nationwide, she estimates there are about 40 survivors of the Arizona who are still alive.

"We don't have that many," she said. "And a lot are ill, too."

They plan to visit the memorial on their first full day here.

A band will greet them at the visitors center entrance and the walkway will be lined with 100 saluting sailors and Marines.

But the purpose of the visit is one of respect, of an obligation willingly accepted a lifetime earlier.

After their arrival, they will board the shuttle boat and motor out to the gleaming white memorial. It is the only real destination on the trip.

"It's very important for them to come to the memorial again," Campbell said. "They never know if it will be their last time or not."

• • •


A week of events is planned for the 65th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor.

The memorial ceremony commemorating the anniversary will feature a keynote address on Dec. 7 from Tom Brokaw at Naval Station Pearl Harbor's Kilo Pier, which looks out to the USS Arizona Memorial.

This year's theme is "A Nation Remembers," and the following events are planned:

ANNIVERSARY SYMPOSIUM: Dec. 2-5, Hilton Hawaiian Village

A gathering of Pearl Harbor historians, authors and survivors and Japanese aviation veterans to recount the events that led America into World War II. Hosted by the National Park Service and the Arizona Memorial Museum Association, the Pearl Harbor 65th Anniversary Symposium will include panels, lectures, receptions and bus tours to attack sites throughout O'ahu.

For more information or to register, visit www.arizonamemorial.org or call (888) 485-1941.

HISTORY CHANNEL DOCUMENTARY NIGHT: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Tapa Ballroom

The public is invited to a free showing of rare Japanese and American newsreel footage from 1941 reports on the attack. "How They Reported It: The Japanese and American Newsreel Media" will also feature two panel discussions: "How They Reported It: Contrasting Headlines of December 7th, 1941 & September 11th, 2001," featuring media experts and reporters; and "A New Beginning: The Pearl Harbor Historic Sites," featuring representatives from USS Bowfin Submarine & Museum, USS Missouri Battleship Memorial, Pacific Air Museum, and a special film from the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum and Visitors Center. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.arizonamemorial.org or call (888) 485-1941.

GALA FUNDRAISER DINNER: 6 p.m. Dec. 5, Hilton Hawaiian Village

A black-tie dinner dance with Pearl Harbor survivors featuring live band music and entertainment from the 1940s. Tickets start at $250 per person with proceeds benefiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund, which is leading the charge to replace the USS Arizona Memorial Museum and Visitors Center.

For more information, call (866) DEC-1941/(866) 332-1941 or visit www.pearlharbormemorial.com.

HISTORIC BOAT TOURS: Dec. 6, USS Arizona Memorial Museum and Visitors Center

The National Park Service is offering two special Historic Pearl Harbor Boat Tours on Dec. 6, at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center. The free one-hour boat tours will be narrated by National Park Service rangers and will take visitors around historic Ford Island. Seating is limited; no reservations will be accepted. Instead, tickets will be distributed on Dec. 6, beginning at 7:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information call the National Park Service at (808) 422-2771.

UNVEILING OF USS ARIZONA SCALE MODEL: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 6, USS Arizona Memorial Museum and Visitors Center

Thanks to the Starr Foundation, a new and more accurate USS Arizona battleship scale model has been built to replace the existing model in the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center Museum. Eight USS Arizona survivor veterans will assist with the official unveiling, to be followed by a Hawaiian blessing and reception. For more information, call (866) DEC-1941/(866) 332-1941 or visit www.pearlharbormemorial.com.

ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION: 7:40 a.m. Dec. 7, Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Kilo Pier; live broadcast at USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center

Former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw will be the keynote speaker. Highlights include music by the Pacific Fleet Band, a Hawaiian blessing, a rifle salute by members of the Marine Corps, wreath presentations, echo taps and recognition of the men and women who survived Dec. 7, 1941, and those who died.

At 7:55 a.m., the moment the Japanese attack began 65 years ago, a moment of silence will be observed. A U.S. Navy ship will render honors to the USS Arizona. Hawaii Air National Guard F-15s will fly over in a missing-man formation.

The commemoration is free, and some seats are open to the public. Due to security measures at Pearl Harbor, however, only invited guests will be allowed on base in their vehicles. Other people wishing to attend must board Navy boats departing from the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center. Seats for the general public on the boats and at the commemoration are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. The first Navy boat for the public will leave the Visitors Center at 5:45 a.m., and the last boat will depart at 6:30 a.m. Parking for the general public is available at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center.


The museum opening will take place following the Navy and National Park Service ceremony. The public is invited to the ceremony featuring guest speakers Chuck Yeager and Wally Schirra. The museum occupies the WWII hangars and control tower on Ford Island that still bear the scars as our Nation's first aviation battlefield. The Museum is a private nonprofit organization.

For more information, call (808) 690-0169 or visit www.pacificaviationmuseum.org.


The USS Oklahoma Memorial groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor following the museum's opening. The battleship Oklahoma was berthed along Ford Island on Dec. 7, 1941, and suffered the second greatest loss of life during the attack.

For more information call Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Community Relations Manager, (808) 473-8000, ext. 2579.

USS Arizona Memorial Public Tours

The National Park Service public tours to the USS Arizona Memorial will operate on a special schedule Dec. 7. The first tour will begin at 10:45 a.m. with the last beginning at 2:30 p.m. Ticket distribution will begin at 7:30 a.m. For more information please call (808) 422-2771 or visit www.nps.gov/usar/index.htm.

For more information on the Pearl Harbor Day 65th Anniversary Commemoration, visit www.nps.gov/usar or call the National Park Service at (808) 422-2771.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.