Survivors of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, gathered today at the USS Arizona Memorial with veterans and family members to commemorate that day 80 years ago.
"Air raid on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill," was broadcast to the fleet that day, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told attendees during keynote remarks.
Two minutes later, an armor-piercing bomb penetrated the decks of the battleship USS Arizona, igniting the ship's forward ammunition magazine. The resulting explosion and fire killed 1,177 sailors and Marines, the greatest loss of life ever on a U.S. Navy ship, he said.
In just under two hours, 21 ships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet were either sunk or damaged, and 188 aircraft were destroyed. Material costs were great, but the human costs were even worse: 2,403 were dead, and 1,178 wounded, including sailors, Marines, soldiers, and civilians, Del Toro said.
"We gather today to remember all of those that we lost on that infamous day. But we also gather to honor the bravery and the skill of all who fought back — those that saved lives, and those that persevered. Because it wasn't just the fleet that was attacked here at Pearl Harbor. It wasn't even just our nation. It was the very future of freedom and democracy around the world, he said.
The Navy secretary said no one understands the value of those words better than he and others who have fled countries where freedom and democracy don't exist. Del Toro was born in Havana and emigrated to the United States in 1962.
Those who served made it clear that the United States will never sacrifice freedom and democracy, Del Toro said.
"I thank all who fought through that long and horrific war, and all the families who served and sacrificed along [with] them. I also thank those who rose to defend freedom in Korea and Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm Iraq, Afghanistan and every other conflict," he said.
"l also want to thank you, the American people, for your unwavering support of our military and their families. It's so very important to us. And, most of all, I thank [the] men and women who continue to serve today in our nation's military. They are also brave souls," Del Toro added.
Lou Conter, 100, was aboard the USS Arizona during the attack.
"I'm grateful to have survived and to have had the opportunity to serve throughout World War II. But, for thousands of people, that first day of the war was also the last they saw of it. The loss of those lives showed us what was at stake. At the same time, their courage ignited a spark that rallied Americans all across the country and redefined the meaning of service," he told the crowd remotely from California.
President Joe Biden, who also spoke remotely, said Pearl Harbor Americans should remember how much we owe those who serve. "Today, as we once more commemorate the courage and sacrifice of those who fought and died in the attacks on Pearl Harbor, remember the debt we owe all those who put themselves on the line for our freedom."