Pearl Harbor pauses to honor its heroes
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By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
On the 66th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the gulf in technology and time from that moment was never wider, but the bonds with succeeding generations never stronger.
After a moment of silence to mark the 7:55 a.m. attack yesterday, a B-2 "batwing" Stealth bomber arced through the sky near Kilo Pier, where fewer than 50 aging Pearl Harbor survivors gathered for this year's remembrance.
Their dwindling numbers were not lost on anyone, and the canes and stooped postures of the men in their 80s and 90s were demonstrations of that fact.
Like many others, Rear Adm. Joe Walsh, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force, respectfully shook the hands of some of the gathered survivors before the ceremony began.
Among them was retired Navy Chief Edward Gaulrapp, 84, who served on eight subs and was at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.
"These guys are our history," Walsh said. "They are the guys we serve for every day."
Fewer than 2,000 people came out for the 66th anniversary. For last year's 65th commemoration, considered a milestone anniversary, the National Parks Service reported an attendance of about 3,000 including nearly 400 survivors.
While the numbers may have been smaller this year, the appreciation for those who fought on Dec. 7, 1941, and the years that followed, was huge.
Four Hawai'i National Guard CH-47 helicopters flew in formation over the harbor, and the cruiser USS Lake Erie passed the Arizona Memorial under rain-soaked skies, paying respect with sailors staffing the rails.
Noreen McCarthy, 44, from Rockford, Ill., visited Pearl Harbor for the second year in a row on Dec. 7 "to honor those who have served — all of them."
Her father-in-law was in the Navy, and her father retired from the Army.
"We wouldn't be where we are without their sacrifice," McCarthy said.
Six military sites on O'ahu were attacked, killing 2,390, destroying or damaging more than 320 aircraft and sinking or damaging 21 vessels.
The attack launched the U.S. into World War II and "Remember Pearl Harbor" became the battle cry that unified the country behind a war whose outcome was far from certain.
"We often forget the challenges that the U.S. faced in the weeks after Dec. 7," said Robert Sutton, the chief historian for the National Park Service.
Except for aircraft carriers that were out to sea, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was in shambles.
"Many feared, and for good reason, that the Japanese would sweep across the Pacific without anything to stop them," Sutton told those assembled at Kilo Pier.
After commemorating the moment when the Japanese attack began at 7:55 a.m., the focus of the ceremony shifted to Ford Island where a new memorial to the battleship Oklahoma was dedicated at noon.
Several hundred Oklahomans flew out to Hawai'i to attend the opening of the memorial to the 429 men who died on the battleship Oklahoma — the second greatest loss of life after the USS Arizona.
Darryl Finch, 87, recalled being on Ford island, "kind of the bullseye of the whole affair."
The Navy aviation metalsmith helped in the dispensary with the wounded.
"It was just a matter of bringing in the guys who were rescued from the water," he said. "It was a continuous stream."
There was "a lot of confusion" that day, he said. "They issued rifles out of the armory there, but no ammunition."
Finch, from California, said part of the reason he came out was because he was on the battleship Oklahoma from 1938 to 1940.
Joe Davis, 57, from Sacramento, told Finch, "Thank you very much for what you've done."
"I was in the Navy and I thought in my lifetime, 'This is probably the last chance I'd have to see the ceremony' — a lot of our survivors are passing on," Davis said. "Our chance of being able to come here and honor them is waning fast."
Wreaths were presented for nine battleships with the toll of a ship's bell and notation of the losses, including 102 from the California, 106 on the West Virginia, and 57 on the Nevada.
Echo taps was played, and survivors and veterans groups later participated in floral tributes on the Arizona Memorial.
Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquartered at Pearl Harbor, said there were many lessons to be learned from the attack.
"But mostly, we should remember the brave men and women who overcame the shock of what was happening to them and fought back," he told the audience.
Willard told the story of Medal of Honor recipient John Finn, who set up a machine gun at Naval Air Station in Kane'ohe and blasted away at the enemy for two hours, receiving at least 18 wounds.
"All told, there were 15 Medals of Honor bestowed that day," Willard said.
Reach William Cole at email@example.com.