PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - The crowds were smaller this year. There were fewer headlines and cameras and big names.
But none of that mattered to the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor and their families, who gathered — as they do every year — in the place where everything changed in an instant 76 years ago Thursday.
"I do this to honor my shipmates," said attendee Gilbert Meyer, who was 18 and aboard the USS Utah when the attack on Pearl Harbor began.
The Texas resident, 94, has returned to Hawaii for the anniversary for the last 15 years and said that every time, it "brings back memories."
Don Stratton, 95, a USS Arizon survivor, said his memory is a little "faded, but I still remember that day."
"I go to the board where they got all the casualties and I recognize so many names after this long a time," he said. "Somebody's gotta pay homage to them. They sacrificed their lives so we can be right here right now."
This year, under the theme "Rising to the Challenge," veterans and their loved ones came together on the lawn at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument to honor the fallen.
As in years' past, the commemoration started just before 8 a.m. to coincide with the exact moments on Dec. 7, 1941 that Japanese warplanes bombarded naval ships in Pearl Harbor and targeted other military installations on Oahu.
"This morning, as we have for the last 76 years, we gather here to pay our respects to America's World War II generation, the greatest generation, and in particular the veterans and civilians who responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor," said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
"None of these heroes considers themselves as such. They all say they were doing their job. But by the time the guns fell silent, they were heroes all."
The gathering was noticeably smaller than last year's, when thousands gathered at Pearl Harbor's Kilo Pier to mark the 75th anniversary of the attack in a landmark ceremony filled with moments of reflection and calls to "never forget."
Attendees, though, say the ceremony is always a moving event. And Thursday was no exception.
"Even with the war still raging they knew it was important to remember and commemorate this event. We still do," said Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor dealt America a historic blow. When the last Japanese fighter planes left Hawaii skies – two hours and 20 minutes after the attack had started – 2,403 Americans were dead, the Pacific Fleet was in ruins, and the United States was thrown into war.
The Pearl Harbor ceremony was one of several held statewide to mark the 76th anniversary of the attack.
There was also a commemoration at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. And the Blackened Canteen Ceremony, which promotes peace and reconciliation, took place at the USS Arizona Memorial.
There were also other smaller gatherings of Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans.
One happened Wednesday, when two of the five remaining survivors of the USS Arizona were taken on a helicopter flyover of Pearl Harbor.
Donald Stratton and Lauren Bruner were accompanied by families and friends on the 15-minute flight to Pearl Harbor.
Stratton was just 19 years old when the attack happened.
And 76 years later, he saw his old ship from above for the first time. He couldn't help but become emotional.
"It's hard to say, what you're thinking," he said. "That's my ship and I remember being aboard and what happened and the shots, so ... just brings back a lot of memories."