PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – Tears ran down the wrinkled cheeks of 81-year-old Wayne Pease on Tuesday as he recalled the destruction he witnessed on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I had a bird’s-eye view to watch five battleships go down,” said Pease, who was an 18-year-old seaman aboard the USS Sicard destroyer when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Pease, of Fort Myers, Fla., was among the dwindling number of survivors who returned to the site of their most haunting memories to honor fallen comrades on the 63rd anniversary of the assault.
“On December the 6th, I was a boy,” Pease said. “On December the 7th, I became a man, suddenly. I grew up in one day. I grew up in two hours you might say.”
Ceremonies were held on shore and on the gleaming white monument straddling the submerged USS Arizona.
The anniversary took on added meaning with U.S. troops still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, saluted the nation’s resilience, then and now.
“It was a day when weaker souls would have surrendered,” Inouye said of the attack that thrust the United States into World War II. “It was a day that gave real meaning to our name, the United States of America.”
He added: “Today, the obstructions and challenges are many – the ugly voices of hatred and the unconscionable actions of terrorism around us intending to make us afraid.”
Inouye, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, spoke to more than 1,000 people at the USS Arizona Memorial visitor center.
Just 17 and living in Honolulu at the time, he later lost his right arm serving in Europe as a member of the Army’s distinguished 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up almost entirely of Japanese-Americans.
A moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. marked the time bombs began to fall over the harbor. Hawaii Air National Guard jets roared overhead in a missing-man formation.
The somber ceremony, under overcast skies with an ocean breeze, concluded with a 21-gun salute and a Navy bugler playing “Taps.”