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Pearl Harbor: Nation Marks 75th Anniversary of Japan’s Attack

The nation on Wednesday will mark the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, an assault that left 2,403 Americans dead and propelled the country into World War II.

It was a sunny Sunday morning when the attack began at around 7:55 a.m. By the time the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other military bases were over, 21 ships were sunk or damaged and more than 300 aircraft were damaged or destroyed.

Image: The USS Arizona Memorial and USS Battleship Missouri Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial and USS Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, on Dec. 5, 2016. HUGH GENTRY / Reuters

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously declared Dec. 7 "a date which will live in infamy" in an address to the nation the following day, during which he asked Congress for a declaration of war.

Around 4,000 people are expected to attend the commemoration ceremony at Pearl Harbor, NBC affiliate KHNL in Honolulu reported.

At Wednesday's ceremony, a moment of silence will be held to mark the time that Japanese planes hit their first target in the harbor. Ceremonies will be held at Kilo Pier and at Hickam Air Force Base to commemorate the attack on Hickam Field.

Related: Oldest Known Pearl Harbor Survivor, 104, Returns to Honor the Fallen

The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey will render pass-in-review honors to the USS Arizona, and a missing man flyover will be conducted above Pearl Harbor during the ceremony, the Navy said. The attack killed 2,335 service members and 68 civilians.

Oldest-Known Pearl Harbor Veteran, 104, Bulks Up for 75th Anniversary 1:38

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not attend the ceremony but will visit Pearl Harbor with President Barack Obama at the end of December, marking the first visit by a leader of the country to visit the site of the surprise attack.

"We must never repeat the tragedy of the war," Abe said in announcing the visit. "I would like to send this commitment. At the same time, I would like to send a message of reconciliation between Japan and the U.S."

Abe is not expected to apologize for the attack in his visit, which will occur Dec. 26 and 27, but will pray for the war dead at the naval base, Abe said in a brief statement.

The U.S. has never apologized for the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war nearly four years later. Obama in May became the first sitting president to visit a memorial of the bombing in Hiroshima.

Image: The battleship USS Arizona belches smoke as it topples over into the sea.
The battleship USS Arizona belches smoke as it topples over into the sea. The ship sank with more than 80 percent of its 1,500-man crew, including Rear Adm. Isaac C. Kidd. AP

The USS Arizona, which was struck by a bomb that detonated fuel stores and ammunition, sank and some of the sailors and Marines killed are still in the wreckage.

"We sacrificed 1,177 men on that ship, and I was one of the lucky ones to get off," Donald Stratton, 94, recalled at an event in Hawaii Tuesday.

Stratton escaped the ship by crawling hand-over-hand on a thrown ropeline around 70 to 80 feet to a boat, and spent a year in the hospital before receiving a medical discharge. He reenlisted the next year, and was assigned to a destroyer that took part in five invasions. "It was so hot and I was burned so bad I don't have any fingerprints anymore," he said.

Photos: Remembering Pearl Harbor, 75 Years Later

Once foes, the U.S. and Japan have become staunch allies in the seven decades since the war.

The U.S. and Japan announced on Tuesday that Washington will return to Japan nearly 10,000 acres of land on Okinawa that U.S. Marines use for jungle warfare training.

The return has been in the works for 20 years and will be completed Dec. 22. The U.S. returned control of Okinawa to Japan in 1972.

Image: Believed to be the first bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in the sneak-attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
Believed to be the first bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in the sneak-attack on Dec. 7, 1941, this picture was found torn to pieces at Yokusuka Base by photographer's mate 2/C Martin J. Shemanski of Plymouth, Pa. One Japanese plane is shown pulling out of a dive near bomb eruption (center) and another the air at upper right. AP

Ray Chavez, 104, who was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the bombing started, will also be at Wednesday's ceremony. He began a training regimen in order to be healthy enough to make the trip, and he said he'd like to be there for the 80th anniversary as well.

"If I can walk, I'll go," said Chavez, who lives in San Diego.

Survivors of the USS Arizona said the nation should remember those never made it out.

Louis Conter, 95, who helped pull bodies and people from the flames after the ship exploded, and stayed there until water on the quarterdeck was up to their knees, said, "People call us heroes, and we're not the heroes. The heroes are the 1,177 who were killed that day."

"We lived through it and came home and got married and had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and lived a big life," Conter said. "They lost theirs immediately and they are the ones that should be called the heroes."

The remains of two people aboard the Arizona during the attack, John Anderson and Clarendon Hetrick, will be interred at the USS Arizona Memorial, the National Park Service said.