Veterans mark 71st anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack: Event held at USS Midway Aircraft Carrier

SAN DIEGO - Veterans marked the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at a remembrance ceremony aboard the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum in downtown San Diego Friday.

The event, co-hosted by the museum and the San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, included the tossing of a wreath overboard to honor the 20 members of the group who died over the past year. The tall ship California, which docks at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, fired a cannon to salute the veterans.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 353 Japanese warplanes killed about 2,400 Americans, wounded more than 1,200, sank four U.S. battleships and damaged four others. Also sunk or damaged were three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer.

The surprise attack, which lasted about two hours, thrust the nation into World War II, which was already raging in Europe and Asia.

Clayton Schenkelberg, who was working in a torpedo shop just off the harbor when the attacks happened, said, "They come right by us, they had come in from the east and the torpedo shop was just east of the [USS] Arizona."

The battleship USS Arizona was hit with an armor-piercing bomb that entered the ships ammo magazine and exploded, killing close to 1,200.

Doyle McKee was at the Kaneohe Bay airfield, which was also attacked. A few months later, he was part of a task force that won a decisive battle at Midway in June 1942.

"We sank four of their aircraft carriers that day and we only lost one, the Yorktown," said McKee.

However, it wasn't just men who answered the call. Vera Kowalski joined the Navy and served in Norfolk, Va.

"I was a spray painter and painted the star on dive bombers," said Kowalski.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to Congress the next day to ask for a declaration of war, and Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. a few days later.

Japan's military went on a rampage across the Pacific and Indian oceans in the six months after the attack while the U.S. prepared to build up forces in England as part of the allies' "Germany First" strategy.

The U.S. turned the tide of the Pacific War when Navy dive bombers sank four Japanese aircraft carriers off Midway in June 1942. The aircraft carrier-turned-museum along the downtown waterfront is named after that battle.

In a turnabout, several of the battleships heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor -- after extensive repairs -- helped turn back the Japanese Navy's final offensive in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which took place in October 1944 off the Philippines. Japan surrendered 10 months later.

Many active duty sailors made it a point to be a part of the remembrance.  

"I'm here to make that connection from past to present and to carry their legacy forward," said Master Chief Petty Officer Brian McDonaugh.

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