By Ramsay Wharton
PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - The bell of the USS Arizona rang out as floral wreaths were laid in honor of the 2,388 servicemembers and civilians killed during the infamous Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor 69 years ago.
The single largest loss of life, the 1,177 aboard the USS Arizona
"The survivors of Pearl Harbor have faithfully gathered here to remind us that Dec 7, 1941 is also a date that will live in the annuals of heroism and freedom," U.S. Fish, Wildlife and Parks assistant secretary Tom Strickland said.
More than 200 Pearl Harbor survivors came to visit the newly named World War II Valor of the Pacific National Monument.
The dedication of the $59 million expanded visitor center is the pride of the pacific and the nation.
It's an incredible rallying point for this country and we need a place that's worthy of this story... and I think we have it here today.
"It's beyond our greatest expectations and we're just happy we could be here to see it," Pearl Harbor survivor Stuart Hedly said.
But this is the moment they've been waiting for. Friends, family and survivors getting a chance to see the brand new exhibit. Some of them are actually a part of it.
"I can remember every inch and every second of that day," said Pat Campbell, who is featured in the new museum.
Pat Campbell was just 10 years old during the attack.
"They let us come in earlier and I just screamed , I was so surprised to see my picture on the wall," Campbell said.
"Nanny always tells her stories but to see it laid out like this, is tremendous," said Patrick Rogers, whose mother is featured in the new museum.
"It brought back a lot of memories," Pearl Harbor survivor Art Dunn said.
Ninety-one-year-old Dunn of Arkansas hasn't been back since 1945. Tuesday's visit opened a flood gate of memories.
"We cut holes in the tin, the medal and we found arms of people. We didn't know who they were," Dunn said.
Memories that many survivors now share openly with visitors.
"The flame went in there, the hatch was open and it burnt that powder up and fwuuuhhh," Pearl Harbor survivor remarked to a visitor.
"It's one of those things that I think nobody really understands until they are here and hear the stories for themselves," granddaughter of Pearl Harbor survivor Alicia Gonzalez said.
"It's a funny feeling to me. It's something you never forget As long as I live... you'll never forget it," Dunn said.
And that's exactly what park officials want visitors to do.