PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 2,000 people gathered to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, including some 50 men who survived the surprise attack that catapulted the U.S. into World War II.
The ceremony was held on the back lawn of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, looking directly out to the USS Arizona Memorial.
"It was a day of gallantry and unquestionable heroism, even as it was a day of sacrifice and loss," said Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
It's estimated that there are only 2,000 to 2,500 Pearl Harbor survivors who are still alive. There are only nine survivors of the USS Arizona.
"We all said as long as there's a Pearl Harbor survivor alive, there are Pearl Harbor survivors," said Sterling Cale, 92, who was at the Navy Shipyard Dispensary when the attack occurred. "So we're all working on a hundred years."
With fewer survivors, those who were able to make it here said they would keep coming as long as they can try to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive, even after they're gone.
"I think other people won't be too interested in what's going on," said survivor John Hughes, who traveled to the event from California. "Just like other events afterwards, people forget about it. So I think it's going to be families that keep it going."
While they are still here, the survivors were lauded as heroes, saluted and honored by the current generation of servicemen and women, as well as by anyone who came to remember.
"Those who survived Pearl Harbor also left us a warning: Remember Pearl Harbor!" Adm. Harris told the crowd. "Keep America alert. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and an imperative never to be caught by surprise again."
"For all the Pearl Harbor survivors, thank you for teaching us all how to survive. How to not just survive, but how to strive, to turn things around. And how to ultimately thrive in life," said keynote speaker Max Cleland, former U.S. Senator and head of the American Battle Monuments Commission. Cleland's father joined the armed forces after the Dec. 7 attack, and Cleland himself lost an arm and his legs in Vietnam.
There was a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the time when the attack began. We asked survivor John Hughes what he thought about at that time.
"Well, I think of the people that are missing," he said.
And then he looked down as his eyes filled with tears.