Ray Garland knew only one thing on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941: He had a job to do.
Garland watched for a moment as the bombs from Japanese forces fell on Pearl Harbor, destroying the nearby USS Arizona. Then, with an enemy to battle and a country to protect, 19-year-old Garland and the other Marines aboard the USS Tennessee leapt into action.
“I just turned around and someone told me I had something to do and I just did it,” said Garland, who now lives in Coeur d’Alene with his wife, Beverly.
Garland joined the remaining local Pearl Harbor survivors at the Harvard Park retirement center for a banquet lunch and to receive red and white Hawaiian leis from Spokane Mayor David Condon. The group included military and civilian survivors.
“These men gave up their families, their lives, to keep us safe,” said Janell White, who oversees events for Harvard Park.
“They find a certain fellowship with each other that nobody quite understands,” said Carol Hipperson, organizer for the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
Though the events of the day live on in history, the number of living survivors is dwindling. Though the local PHSA meets once a month, the national organization was disbanded in 2011 due to declining membership.
Last year, there were nine local survivors. Now, only seven remain.
Garland only remembers the first 45 minutes of the battle: the roar of machine guns, the scream of enemy planes, the sound of falling bombs. Then, everything vanished.
Garland awoke in a medical center, his eyes burned and temporarily blinded. It took several days before he could see anything, and it was more than a month before the red flashes in his eyesight disappeared.
Garland was one of a lucky few. The attack killed more than 2,400 service members, bringing the U.S. into World War II.
Despite the loss of life, Garland said the attack on Pearl Harbor brought unity to the United States.
“After that happened, everyone was ready to go,” Garland said.
After lunch, the survivors group traveled to Riverfront Park in a specially designed “stars and stripes” bus provided by Spokane Transit Authority. The survivors and their families stepped into frigid sunlight with leis still hanging around their necks.
The men and women faced an honor guard firing a 21-gun salute, the shots ringing through the still air as a bugle player played taps. Several saluted.
Then, the group turned to the river, throwing their leis into the water and watching for several minutes as the water swallowed up the flowers.