USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Mal Middlesworth was a young Marine stationed aboard the USS San Francisco.
"It was just a tremendous amount of explosions. Then the smoke. Then a little later on, the fire on top of the water," he said.
Jack Hammett was a 19-year-old Navy pharmacist. He accounted for the dead and comforted the dying.
"To see so much death and destruction in such a short period of time," he said. "We always got what was left over after a battle. No glory there."
The sneak attack killed more than 2,400 U.S. servicemen and women. It came in two waves - the first at 7:53 in the morning.
Back then, Pat Thompson was ten-year-old Pat Campbell, living in Navy housing with her family near Pearl Harbor.
"I was so used to the planes coming over from Hickam field," she said. "I was outside waving at them any time a plane came. That morning I was outside waving at the Japanese planes, not knowing that they weren't ours."
Thompson, Hammett and Middlesworth were among a handful of survivors and eyewitnesses who returned to Pearl Harbor Monday to join discussions organized by the National Parks Service.
"Everybody thinks in macro when they're thinking about Pearl Harbor. We think of it in terms of micro. My job was those bodies. Everybody says, 'You're a hero.' We're not heroes," Hammett said.
"There's only about a half-page in a history book about Pearl Harbor. And half of that half page is a picture of the Arizona," Middlesworth said. "Our youngsters don't understand what really happened. They don't understand that freedom isn't free."
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is a dying generation. Only about 2,200 are still alive.