Nightly News | December 07, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: It was nearly -- it was 70 years ago today, in fact, that nearly 2400 Americans died when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor , an attack that drew the United States , of course, into World War II . Today the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta , laid a wreath at the US Navy Memorial in Washington , DC , while at the site in Hawaii , the dwindling number of Pearl Harbor survivors gathered to remember
those who were lost that day. And it was lost on no one: This will likely be their last such large gathering. NBC 's George Lewis is there for us tonight. George , good evening.
GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Good evening, Brian . It's been a day of remembrances, of nostalgia, some tears, and a lot of war stories from a band of brothers, their ranks diminished by time, who lived through a pivotal moment in American history . At 7:55 this morning, the exact time the Japanese attack began in 1941 , US Air Force and National Guard planes flew over Pearl Harbor in a salute to the dead.
Offscreen Voice: Ladies and gentlemen , these are heroes.
LEWIS: One hundred twenty of the survivors of the attack showed up to remember that day. One of them , 88-year-old Mal Middlesworth of Upland , California . As a young Marine, he was stationed aboard the USS San Francisco when the bombs and the torpedoes started dropping, one of them hitting the battleship Arizona , killing 1177 sailors and Marines .
Mr. MAL MIDDLESWORTH: Got to be standing there with a front-row seat on one of the greatest spectacles of the 20th century.
LEWIS: He survived that, married his childhood sweetheart, went on to fight with the Marines in some of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific , places like Guadalcanal and Peleliu .
Mr. MIDDLESWORTH: The Marine Corps is an equal opportunity employer. You get to get shot at on a ship, in the air or running up beaches.
LEWIS: And today he was talking about the lessons and legacies of the war.
Mr. MIDDLESWORTH: Freedom isn't free. Never has been. Looks like it's never going to be.
LEWIS: For most of the survivors of Pearl Harbor , in their late 80s or 90s now, this will probably be their last get-together. Two of those who died this year are being reunited with their shipmates on sunken battleships where so many lost their lives 70 years ago. Last night at sunset, divers carried the ashes of Lee Soucy underwater to be interred in the battleship Utah .
Ms. MARGARET SOUCY (Lee Soucy's Daughter): Oh, he would be so proud and honored to have all the people here. He really would.
LEWIS: And at the Arizona Memorial , a similar service for Vernon Olsen , who died in April. Members of his family say being here has been a deeply moving experience.
Ms. KATHERINE KOSTIDAKIS (Vernon Olsen's Great-Niece): I can compare it to going to the World Trade Center Memorial . Kind of this is of their generation compared to my generation.
LEWIS: So it'll be up to those future generations to keep the memories alive. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association says it's going out of business as a nonprofit organization at the end of this year. Brian :
WILLIAMS: Give anything to keep the members of the Greatest Generation around. George Lewis , Pearl Harbor , Hawaii. George , thanks. Up next