More than 2,000 people attended a ceremony Saturday to remember those killed when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor 78 years ago and launched the U.S. into World War II.
Organizers of the public event at the Hawaii naval base said attendees included about a dozen survivors of the December 7, 1941, attack, the youngest of whom are now in their late 90s.
Herb Elfring, 97, of Jackson, Michigan, said being back at Pearl Harbor reminded him of all those who had lost their lives.
It makes you think of all the servicemen who have passed ahead of me. As a Pearl Harbor survivor, I'm one of the last chosen few, I guess.'' He's the only member of his regiment still living. </p><figure role="group">
<figcaption>Herb Elfring, 97, of Jackson, Mich., attends the ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 2019. Elfring survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as a soldier in the California National Guard’s 251st Coast Artillery.</figcaption></figure><p>Elfring was in the Army, assigned to the 251st Coast Artillery, part of the California National Guard. The unit's job was to protect airfields but the members weren't expecting an attack that morning. <br />
Elfring was standing at the edge of his barracks at Camp Malakole, a few miles down the coast from Pearl Harbor, reading a bulletin board when Japanese Zero planes flew over.I could hear it coming but didn’t pay attention to it until the strafing bullets were hitting the pavement about 15 feet (4.6 meters) away from me,” he said.
A moment of silence was held at 7:55 a.m., the same time the assault began. U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jets flying overhead in missing-man formation broke the quiet.
Retired Navy Admiral Harry Harris, currently the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, was among those delivering remarks, along with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
The ceremony came on the heels of two deadly shootings at Navy bases this week, one at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and another at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.
Rear Admiral Robert Chadwick, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said the military community had received an outpouring of love and support from Hawaii after the shooting at “our beloved shipyard” earlier this week.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of the victims and everyone affected,” Chadwick said.
A Pearl Harbor National Memorial spokesman said security was beefed up as usual for the annual event.
The 1941 aerial assault killed more than 2,300 U.S. troops. Of those, 1,177 were Marines and sailors serving on the USS Arizona, a battleship moored in the harbor. The vessel sank within nine minutes of being hit, taking most of its crew down with it.
Lou Conter, 98, was the only survivor from the USS Arizona to make it to this year’s ceremony. Two other survivors are still living. Conter was sick last year and couldn’t come. He said he likes to attend to remember those who lost their lives.
“It’s always good to come back and pay respect to them and give them the top honors that they deserve,” Conter said.
Conter said his doctor has vowed to keep him well until he’s 100 so he can return for the 80th anniversary.
The USS Arizona still rests in the harbor today and is a grave for more than 900 men killed in the attack. Each year, nearly 2 million people visit the white memorial structure built above the ship.
An internment ceremony was scheduled to be held at sunset on the memorial for one of the Arizona’s survivors, Lauren Bruner. He died earlier this year at age 98.
Bruner asked that an urn with his ashes be placed inside the Arizona’s sunken hull upon his death. His ashes will join the remains of 44 shipmates who lived through the attack but wanted to be laid to rest in the ship. Bruner explained before he died that he preferred being interred in the Arizona so he could join his buddies and because of the memorial’s high number of visitors.
Bruner is expected to be the last Arizona crew member to be interred on the ship. The three Arizona survivors still living plan to be buried with their families.
Conter, the Arizona survivor from Grass Valley, California, said he would attend Bruner’s interment ceremony. He said Bruner was a good friend who joined the Navy and the Arizona a year ahead of Conter.
“Lauren was a good sailor, a good man. I’m glad he made it through Pearl,“ he said.