Source AP ©

Americans mark 66th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack

Pearl Harbor survivors observed a moment of silence on Friday to honor those who perished in the Japanese bombing of Oahu 66 years ago.

Wearing aloha shirts and orchid flower lei, the military veterans stood on a pier overlooking the sunken hull of the USS Arizona and saluted the flag as a sailor sang the "Star Spangled Banner."

"We're honoring the people who were killed. We're not here for ourselves, we're here for them," said George A. Smith, 83, who was on board the USS Oklahoma the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

Overall, 2,388 Americans died in the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks, including some 900 still entombed in the sunken Arizona.

Hawaii Air National Guard helicopters flew over the harbor in "missing man" formation in honor of those lost. B-2 stealth bombers currently deployed to Guam performed an additional flyby.

Survivors of each of the nine battleships bombed in the attack took turns setting wreaths before life preservers bearing the names of their ship.

The crowd of some 2,000 family members, friends, officials and the public honored the survivors with a standing ovation and several minutes of loud applause.

Smith, of Olympia, Washington, was standing watch on the Oklahoma when he saw planes darting through the sky over the harbor.

"One plane came in, circled, came right down to us. The guy opened the hatch to his plane and dropped his torpedo, waved at me and took off," Smith said. "The next thing I knew there was a big explosion."

Smith was able to jump overboard, just avoiding being squashed by the capsizing battleship, and then swam ashore.

Smith was among 18 survivors of the Oklahoma who came to Hawaii to help dedicate a new memorial to the vessel after the main ceremony. The Oklahoma lost 429 sailors and Marines - the second greatest loss of life among any of the battleships in Pearl Harbor.

The $1.2 million (820,000 EUR) monument includes 429 white marble standards, each with the name of a fallen sailor or Marine, surrounded by black granite panels etched with a silhouette of the battleship and notable quotes from World War II-era figures that were selected by some of the survivors.

The Oklahoma was hit with the first torpedo of the morning assault. It capsized after being struck by eight more, trapping 400 men in its overturned hull. About 30 of the trapped men were later rescued by Pearl Harbor Navy Yard workers who hammered their way through the ship's metal.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Tucker McHugh, who co-chaired the USS Oklahoma Memorial Committee, said he thinks the memorial will bring some sense of closure to those who survived and even to those who perished.

"I think there's been a void in the minds and hearts of these shipmates that their shipmates were never honored with a lasting memorial," McHugh said. "Total closure might come when the last survivor passes away and they're all reunited together.

"Even though 429 soldiers and Marines died, I believe they're still with us. I think they're looking down and saying, 'Thank you."'

Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, who witnessed the Pearl Harbor attack as a 17-year-old high school senior and who later received the Medal of Honor for fighting in Europe, said he hoped the ceremony would prompt people to think of those serving today.

"There are over 1.4 million in many countries, not just Iraq and Afghanistan, serving us, ready to stand in harms way for us," Inouye told The Associated Press this week. "And there are an equal number of families, children and wives and husbands spending time at home thinking about them."

Inouye was unable to attend the ceremony because of Senate business.

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