Four of the remaining nine USS Arizona survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack are vowing this year's anniversary won't be their last reunion.
The men in their 90s gathered last week in a building overlooking the memorial that sits on top of the Arizona battleship, which sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. Even though it's the last official survivor gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Assn., the men said they still plan to get together, even if not in Hawaii.
"I don't think this is going to be our last. … We've still got time to go," said Louis Conter, 93, of Grass Valley. "We'll be back out here no matter whether the rest of the crowd can make it or not."
Donald Stratton, 92, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was one of the few survivors of a gun director in the forward part of the ship. More than 65% of his body was burned. Stratton was hospitalized for more than year and medically discharged from the Navy. He reenlisted a year later.
"The good Lord saved just a few of us," he said.
Sunday marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese attack that killed about 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers. During a private event Sunday, the four men planned to toast their shipmates, drinking from replicas of champagne glasses from the Arizona. They were to share a bottle of sparkling wine that was a gift to the survivors association from President Ford's visit to Spain in 1975.
The men arrived at the Pearl Harbor visitor center five days before the anniversary to military salutes, music from the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band and photos from tourists. At the news conference, they shared memories of the attack.
"I learned something about faith," said John Anderson, 97, of Roswell, N,M., recalling that he had just gone to church and was heading to breakfast when someone said they saw the planes coming. He became teary-eyed as he discussed his twin brother's death in the attack.
"It's always like yesterday when we're out here," Conter said.
The survivors also watched a live feed of a dive along the Arizona's sunken hull, which still holds the bodies of more than 900 of about 1,177 men who died on the battleship.
Ashes of 38 survivors are interred there.
National Park Service Historian Daniel Martinez, moderating Tuesday's discussion, seemed overcome with emotion when he announced that Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner, 94, of La Mirada last year signed paperwork for his intentions to be interred there. Conter plans to do the same, he said.
"It seems like after a while nobody pays attention to them anymore, after about five years," Bruner said of his decision not to be buried in a cemetery. "I hope a lot of people will still be … coming over to the Arizona and we'll be glad to see them."