Locally, a number of veterans, including Nelson Gatewood, remember that Sunday morning in 1941 very well, and they feel it should never be forgotten.
Local Pearl Harbor Day services will be held at the Spring River Bridge in Hardy on Dec. 7 at 11 a.m. with the tossing of a wreath into the Spring River by local veterans groups. Cherokee Village American Legion Post 346, VFW Post 4772, DAV #55 and the Purple Heart Association sponsored the event which honored Roy Moody, a Sharp County World War II veteran who died this year.
This year marks the first year since its formation over 50 years ago that the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will not gather in Hawaii to commemorate the attack. The organization was forced to disband last year because so many of its members are aging and dying off. Harry R. Kerr, the director of the Southeast chapter of the organization, told the media there weren't enough survivors left to keep the organization running. "We just ran out of gas, that's what it amounted to," he said from his home in Atlanta.
Many of the veterans who served during Pearl Harbor have spent time during their lives speaking at various civic and school functions with a living testimony of the events of the historic day. The concern that these accounts will now become only pages in a history book is very disheartening to many veterans. Kerr recalled an eye-opening appearance he made a while back. "I was talking in a school two years ago, and I was being introduced by a male teacher. He said, 'Mr. Kerr will be talking about Pearl Harbor,' and one of the little girls said, 'Pearl Harbor? Who is she?' "Can you imagine?" he said.
The association was founded in 1958 with a roster of 28,000, all members of the military who had been on the island of Oahu the morning of the attack. It was granted a Congressional charter in October 1985. By September 2011, membership had fallen to 2,700.
Daniel A. Martinez, the chief historian for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, said, in a media interview prior to the closing of the organization, that 7,000 survivors were on hand for the 50th anniversary 20 years ago, with only about 125 survivors present for the announcement about the disbanding of the organization. Martinez said that Pearl Harbor Day was supposed to be marked everywhere, and every year, not just in Hawaii. "It is supposed to be a national day of remembrance, with ceremonies across this country," Martinez said.
This is not the first time, of course, that America has seen memories of a historic battle fade with the passing of the generation that fought it. This too has happened with Civil War and World War 1 veterans.
The attack was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.
The base was attacked by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. One hundred and eighty-eight U.S. aircraft were destroyed in the attack that killed 2,402 Americans and wounded 1,282.