PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Four of the remaining nine USS Arizona survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack vowed this year's anniversary wouldn't be their last reunion.
The men, in their 90s, gathered for a news conference Tuesday in a building overlooking the memorial atop the Arizona, a battleship that sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. Even though it's the last official survivors' gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Association, the men said they still planned to get together, even if not in Hawaii.
"I don't think this is going to be our last. . . . We've still got time to go," said Louis Conter, 93, of Grass Valley, Calif. "We'll be back out here no matter whether the rest of the crowd can make it or not."
Donald Stratton, 92, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was one of the few survivors of a fire in the forward part of the ship. More than 65 percent of his body was burned, and he was hospitalized for more than year, then medically discharged from the Navy. He reenlisted a year later.
"The good Lord saved just a few of us," he said.
Sunday marks the 73d anniversary of the Japanese attack that killed about 2,400 sailors, Marines, and soldiers. During a private event Sunday, the four men will toast their shipmates, drinking from replicas of champagne glasses from the Arizona. They will share a bottle of sparkling wine that was a gift to the survivors' association from President Gerald Ford's visit to Spain in 1975.
The men arrived at the Pearl Harbor visitor center on Tuesday to military salutes, music from the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band, and tourists taking photos. At the news conference, they reminisced about the attack.
"I learned something about faith," said John Anderson, 97, of Roswell, N.M., recalling that he had just gone to church services and was heading to breakfast when someone said planes were coming. He became teary-eyed talking of his twin brother, who died in the attack.
"It's always like yesterday when we're out here," Conter said.
The survivors also watched the live feed of a dive along the Arizona's sunken hull, which still holds the bodies of more than 900 of about 1,177 men who died on the battleship.
Ashes of 38 survivors are also interred there.
National Park Service Historian Daniel Martinez, moderating Tuesday's discussion, seemed overcome with emotion when he announced that Arizona survivor Lauren Bruner, 94, of La Mirada, Calif., last year signed paperwork for his intention to be interred there. Conter plans to do the same, he said.
"It seems like after a while nobody pays attention to them anymore, after about five years," Bruner said of his decision not to be buried in a cemetery. "I hope a lot of people will still be . . . coming over to the Arizona, and we'll be glad to see them."