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Thousands Pay Tribute at Pearl Harbor, 75 Years After Attack

Pearl Harbor, 75 Years Later: The Greatest Generation Returns 1:52

America marked the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor Wednesday with a solemn but inspirational ceremony that honored the dwindling number of veterans who survived the 1941 bombing and framed their defense against the Japanese as a symbol of the country's enduring fight against tyranny.

The servicemen and civilians who fought and died in the assault "left us a warning: Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America alert. And eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," Admiral Harry B. Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a gathering at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at the site of the bombing near Honolulu.

That message, Harris said, remained clear on 9/11 and stands today, as the United States continues to fight terrorism across the world.

"Every December 7, we remember the past actions of our veterans on Oahu because they inspire us today and because they shape our future," he said.

Many of Pearl Harbor's veterans were barely adults when Japanese aircraft staged an unprovoked assault on the Hawaiian naval base, thrusting the United States into World War II. Many are now in their 90s. A few were in the crowd on Wednesday, including Donald Stratton, one of five known living survivors of the USS Arizona. They were saluted and cheered.

Image: The American destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The American destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, home of the American Pacific Fleet during World War II. Keystone/Getty Images

The assault left 2,335 service members dead, many of whose bodies remain underwater with the wreckage of the USS Arizona. Another 68 civilians perished.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 7 as a date that would "live in infamy," and it remains a powerful American touchstone.

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

President Obama, who will visit the site later this month with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, marked National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day with a statement that praised the sacrifice not only of the people who were attacked, but of the "millions of GIs and Rosie the Riveters who answered the call to defend liberty at its moment of maximum peril."

Remembering Pearl Harbor 75 Years Later 1:37

Obama added, "We give thanks to the veterans and survivors of Pearl Harbor who faced down fear itself, met infamy with intrepidity, freed captive peoples from fascism and whose example inspires us still."

The ceremony at Pearl Harbor included a moment of silence to mark the time Japanese planes hit their first target.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey rendered pass-in-review honors to the USS Arizona, and a missing man flyover was conducted above the harbor. It ended with the playing of "Taps" and a gun salute.

The ceremony was followed by other services around the harbor and Hawaii.

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

Image: Pearl Harbor survivor Robert Coles salutes active U.S. service members after the ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kilo Pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam in Honolulu
Pearl Harbor survivor Robert Coles salutes active U.S. service members after the ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kilo Pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii on Dec. 7. HUGH GENTRY / Reuters

The United States ended World War II nearly four years after Pearl Harbor by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the decades since, America and Japan have become close allies.

"We are living proof that time heals, that it is possible to become the best of friends and allies and to have the deepest consideration and trust for one another," said the Rev. Tsunekiyo of the Japan Religious Committee for World Federation.

Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor will come seven months after Obama became the first sitting president to visit a memorial of the bombing in Hiroshima.

How Pearl Harbor Ended Up Shaping 'The Greatest Generation' 2:05