PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - With smoke still billowing from the torpedoed ruins of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Thomas Griffin's B-25 group took off from its Oregon base to search for Japanese ships or submarines along the West Coast.
They didn't find any, but four months later the group flew from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and attacked Tokyo.
The raid inflicted little damage but boosted U.S. morale and embarrassed the Japanese, who launched the ill-fated attack on Midway Island six weeks later, Griffin recalled.
"We took them by surprise," said Griffin, a retired Army Air Corps major and a keynote speaker at a ceremony yesterday commemorating the 67th anniversary of the Japanese raid that marked America's entry into World War II.
He was joined by more than 2,000 World War II veterans and other observers.
Usually, the commemoration focuses on the attack on the USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor and several other installations on Oahu.
But yesterday's remembrance centered more on the months following the raid and on an American response that helped defeat the Japanese .
At 7:55 a.m., the moment on a Sunday morning in 1941 when hundreds of Japanese planes began raining bombs and torpedoes onto Oahu's U.S. military ships and planes, onlookers across from the sunken USS Arizona went silent.
"It was an impossible beginning," Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in his address.
"Yet, look at us today." He noted that Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard recently celebrated 100 years of service and still maintains the far-reaching U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Underscoring how far Americans and Japanese have come since Dec. 7, 1941, President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago yesterday introduced retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, a Japanese-American born in Hawaii a year after the attack, as his nominee to head the Veterans Affairs Department.
Yesterday's commemoration featured a performance by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, morning colors, a Hawaiian blessing, a rifle salute by the Marine Corps and a recognition of those who survived the attack.
After the moment of silence observing the beginning of the attack, the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon rendered honors to the Arizona, which still lies in the harbor with its dead.