Families pick up torch as Pearl Harbor survivors fade

Four of nine remaining Pearl Harbor survivors gathered this week for a commemoration of the 73rd anniversary of the surprise attack that took the US to war.

John Anderson, Donald Stratton, Louis Conter and Lauren Bruner joined a memorial service and news conference to remember those who died on December 7, 1941. It is thought that this will be the last gathering of survivors, given their ages. At 8am, a fleet of Japanese aircraft flew over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, bombing all US facilities and warships. While soldiers on the ground scrambled to fire shots at the planes, it was in vain as hundreds of Japanese aircraft continued to bomb and shoot their US target.

The attack lasted one and a half hours, and was conducted in two waves by the Japanese air force. In total 2403 Americans died, and 18 warships and around 300 aircraft were destroyed.The USS Arizona was the most heavily damaged ship, with 1100 crew killed and 355 survivors. While there are fewer and fewer survivors today, those who remain, their families and their descendants are committed to commemorating the attack. They want to ensure the historical day is kept alive and acts as a reminder for the devastation of war.

Each survivor has their own story, just like Navy Seaman, Pearson Harkema, who jumped from the USS Oklahoma when it was being bombed. He swam to nearby islands and survived. He had thought the attack was a drill, but when he saw the Japanese markings on the aircraft he realised it was an attack. Historians worry that the younger generation aren’t being taught the impact of Pearl Harbor on America’s history. For many, the terrorist attacks on and since September 11, 2001 have taken much more attention than those from the two World Wars, the Stars and Stripes reports.

One center at St. Vincent College in the US has compiled the stories from World War One and Two veterans to be published in a series of books. Mr Kralik, the son of a Pearl Harbor survivor said that he views it as his duty to keep the memory alive and honour those who experienced the attack. He is national vice president of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, a group of more than 4000 members. The group makes a point of telling the experience of their ancestors to ensure the memories of Pearl Harbor remain in the public’s consciousness.

The group hopes to establish a Pearl Harbor Survivors Museum to compliment the memorials at Pearl Harbor.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE