PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – In wheelchairs and on walkers, the old veterans came Wednesday to remember the day 70 years ago when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But FDR’s “date that will live in infamy” is becoming a more distant memory.
Fewer and fewer veterans who experienced the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, are alive to mark the anniversaries, and most of them are in their 90s, many prevented by health problems from traveling to Hawaii. One survivor group said it would disband because age and infirmity made it too difficult to carry on.
“People had other things that they wanted to do with the remainder of their lives,” Pearl Harbor Survivors Association president William Muehleib said. “It was time.”
The 2,390 Americans who died in the attacks are not forgotten. Besides Pearl Harbor, there are remembrances elsewhere.
In Phoenix, the goal every year is to draw 1,177 people – the number who died on the USS Arizona – but organizers don’t come close to that anymore.
On Wednesday, about 300 people gathered for a mile-long remembrance walk, carrying miniature U.S. flags and tags bearing the names of Pearl Harbor casualties.
“As time goes by, it might actually fade. This may be the last significant anniversary when we could thank a survivor. Get out there. Get your chance to thank them,” event chairman Ben Ernyei said.
Those who made it to Pearl Harbor were treated to a hero’s reception. The 5,000 spectators whistled, shouted and applauded loudly as the 120 or so survivors stood to be recognized.
Muehleib said local chapters of his group will function as long as they have members and survivors can gather socially, but they will no longer have a formal, national organization. He predicted survivors would attend future commemorations at Pearl Harbor. The association has 2,700 members. There are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Pearl Harbor survivors.