Video: Pearl Harbor memorial sinking

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/7/2005 8:38:28 PM ET 2005-12-08T01:38:28

Just after daybreak, to the minute, 64 years later, they come to the Pearl Harbor memorial to remember.

Marie Magdaleno is here with son Timothy to lay a wreath.

"It's just so awe inspiring at times, when you think about just how important just a moment in time really is," says Timothy.

Manuel Magdaleno and his brother Henry were sailors aboard the USS Tennessee when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. They watched in horror as sister ships burned and sank, and shipmates perished.

"They had a ringside seat to one of the most horrific events in U.S. military history," says Daniel Martinez, a historian with the National Parks Service.

The brothers weren't always in the Navy. In the 1930s they were a vaudeville duo, touring with the likes of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

"Henry, his brother, was more of a comedian type," says Marie. "Manuel was a singer. He had a lovely, lovely voice."

But as tensions grew in the Pacific, the brothers left the stage to join up like so many thousands of others. On Dec. 7, 1941, 2,400 of them were killed.

Pearl Harbor: Interactive experience narrated by Lester HoltSixty-four years later, hundreds come each day to learn their stories at the Pearl Harbor memorial.

"It's sacred ground," says retired Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo. "And it represents the sacrifice of all Americans who fought in the Pacific and served in World War II."

The vital memorial is visited by more than 1.6 million people every year, so many that it, too, is now threatened. The museum has grown too small for the history it holds, and the visitors' center is literally sinking in the soft soil.

A drive is underway to help raise the $34 million needed for a new building.

The Magdaleno family, too, has some pieces of history to share with the museum, but Timothy says, "It's tough for us to have these items and then give them on loan to the museum and know that they are just going to be stored and not displayed."

Manuel Magdaleno passed away earlier this year, but not before passing on his Pearl Harbor memories and mementos to his family. As they visit the spot where the USS Tennessee was moored that morning, there is hope those memories will live on.

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