Thousands of people attended a ceremony over the weekend marking 78 years since the Pearl Harbor attack, despite two recent mass shootings at Navy bases, including the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
The tolling of a bell recovered from the wreckage of the USS Arizona honored the more than 2,400 people killed in the 1941 attack.
The commemoration came just days after the shootings at two Navy facilities. One of them at Pearl Harbor left three dead, including the gunman who took his own life, and one injured. The other in Pensacola, Florida, left three people dead. The gunman, a Saudi flight student, was killed by a sheriff's deputy. Authorities are investigating the Pensacola attack as an act of terrorism.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial Superintendent Jaqueline Ashwell addressed the killings Saturday, offering condolences to Navy members and their families.
“I wish to take a brief moment to offer the condolences to our Navy colleagues into their families in the wake of the tragic events that unfolded earlier this week,” Ashwell said.
The tragedies didn’t stop thousands of people and dozens of World War Two veterans from attending the event. Thirteen survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack were present, including USS Arizona crewmember Lou Conter.
Conter was a quartermaster onboard the battleship and was standing watch when the Japanese attack began. He helped coordinate an evacuation effort when the order to abandon the Arizona came 40 minutes later. He makes a point to return for the anniversary each year.
“I enjoy coming out to pay homage to the men that gave their lives. We were lucky, we came home, got married, had kids, grandkids, great-grandkids,” Conter said.
Now 98 years old, Conter became a pilot after Pearl Harbor and subsequently deployed to Australia and Papua New Guinea. He stayed in the Navy and served as an intelligence officer during the Korean War, later going on to develop survival training for Navy pilots and Marines.
Conter attended Saturday’s ceremony in full Navy dress, his daughter, grandson-in-law, and three great grandchildren in tow. He is now one of just three surviving members of the Arizona crew – and the only one who attended this year.
Harry Harris, former Navy admiral and current U.S. ambassador to South Korea, pointed to the dwindling number of World War Two veterans as all the more reason to remember events like Pearl Harbor.
“My dad to his four brothers and so many from the greatest generation are no longer with us but we can still hear their stories of duty, of honor and of courage. Their ghosts walk amongst us, their spirits speak, too,” Harris said.
Before being appointed as ambassador, Harris served as the top military officer in the Pacific, commanding the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. He made a point during his remarks at Pearl Harbor to extol the importance of American alliances in the post-World War II peace in the Indo-Pacific region.
U.S Interior Secretary David Bernhardt also spoke, describing Pearl Harbor as the place where fate met resolve.
“Fate was on the mind of Winston Churchill in addressing a joint session of Congress, just two weeks after the attack, in a speech known by his most famous line, ‘Now we are the masters of our own fate,’” said Bernhardt, whose great uncle was killed aboard the Arizona.
As for Arizona survivor Lou Conter, he remains the master of his fate. Conter plans to be back at Pearl Harbor in two years for the 80th anniversary of the attack.
He will be 100 years old.