On 75th anniversary, US veterans recall Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

5 PHOTOS
Pearl Harbor commemoration events
See Gallery
Pearl Harbor commemoration events
U.S. Navy sailors watch as the USS Halsey passes the USS Arizona Memorial for the "Pass in Review" during ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kilo Pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
HONOLULU, HI - DECEMBER 07: USS Arizona survivor Louis Conter signs autographs before the start of a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kilo Pier on December 07, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
The US flag flies at half-staff at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 7, 2016 to honor the victims of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on this day in 1941. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HONOLULU, HI - DECEMBER 07: The USS Halsey performs a Pass-in-Review during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kilo Pier on December 07, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

LOS ANGELES/HONOLULU, Dec 7 (Reuters) - It has been 75 years but U.S. Navy veteran James Leavelle can still recall watching with horror as Japanese warplanes rained bombs on his fellow sailors in the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor that plunged the United States into World War Two.

Bullets bounced off the steel deck of his own ship, the Whitney, anchored just outside Honolulu harbor, but a worse fate befell those aboard the Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah and other U.S. ships that sank or capsized in the attack that killed 2,400 people.

SEE ALSO: Shock, aftermath of Pearl Harbor attack laid out at U.S. museum

"The way the Japanese planes were coming in, when they dropped bombs, they'd drop them and then circle back," said Leavelle, a 21-year-old Navy Storekeeper Second Class at the time of the attack.

Leavelle, now 96, was among 30 Pearl Harbor survivors honored at a reception in Los Angeles before heading to Honolulu to mark Wednesday's 75th anniversary of the attack.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor took place at 7:55 a.m. Honolulu time on Dec. 7, 1941, famously dubbed "a date which will live in infamy" by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fewer than 200 survivors of the attacks there and on other military bases in Hawaii are alive.

Wednesday's commemoration at a pier overlooking the memorial to the sunken Arizona began with a moment of silence at precisely that time.

The battleship Arizona sank with 1,177 officers and crew on board and lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

Wearing leis of fresh Hawaiian flowers around their necks, about 350 U.S. veterans of World War Two and their families received blessings and prayers for peace.

A performance by the Navy's Pacific Fleet Band was made bittersweet by the knowledge that every member of the USS Arizona band, one of the Navy's best, died that day.

Two families were to participate in a private ceremony in which the ashes of crew members who survived the attack and died later were to be interred in a turret of the Arizona.

Across the United States on Wednesday, Americans remembered those who died at Pearl Harbor and the long, difficult war that followed.

Look back at December 7, 1941:

30 PHOTOS
The attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years later
See Gallery
The attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years later
A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kanoehe Bay during the raid the previous day at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 8, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A model made for a Japanese propaganda film on the Pearl Harbor raid, showing ships located as they were during the December 7, 1941 attack, is seen in a photograph which was brought back to the U.S. from Japan at the end of World War II by Rear Admiral John Shafroth. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Ship's Chief Petty Officers listen to the radio broadcast of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to the Congress requesting a declaration of War against the Axis powers, December 8, 1941. Note the photograph of President Roosevelt on the bulkhead. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A wrecked U.S. Army Air Corps B-17C bomber lies at Hickam Air Field, following the end of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. This plane, piloted by Captain Raymond T. Swenson, was one of those that arrived during the raid after flying in from California. It was hit by a strafing attack after landing and burned in half. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The body of a sailor killed during the Japanese air attack at Naval Air Station Kanoehe Bay lies on the shoreline, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Sailors attempt to save a burning PBY amphibious aircraft at during the Japanese raid on Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016 U.S. Navy/U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The destroyers USS Downes and USS Cassin lie wrecked in Drydock One ahead of the battleship USS Pennsylvania soon after the end of the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. Navy Photographer's Mate Harold Fawcett/U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The forward superstructure of the sunken battleship USS Arizona burns after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016 U.S. Navy/U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The destroyers USS Downes and USS Cassin lie wrecked in Drydock One ahead of the battleship USS Pennsylvania soon after the end of the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken battleship USS West Virginia during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Gunners on board the minesweeper USS Avocet look for more Japanese planes, at about the time the air raid ended on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A Japanese Type 00 (Zero) fighter with markings from the carrier Akagi is seen after it crashed during the attack at Fort Kamehameha, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
U.S. Marines await the possible return of Japanese aircraft on the parade ground at the Pearl Harbor Marine Barracks, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The crew of the Japanese carrier Shokaku cry Banzai as a Type 97 Kate carrier attack plane takes off as the second wave attack is launched on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A Japanese Type 00 (Zero) carrier fighter trails smoke after it was hit by anti-aircraft fire during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Flak bursts of anti-aircraft shells pepper the skyline above rising smoke from the battleship USS Arizona during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The damaged battleship USS California, listing to port after being hit by Japanese aerial torpedoes and bombs, is seen off Ford Island during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A Japanese Navy Type 99 Val carrier bomber is seen in action during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The battleship USS Arizona burns on Battleship Row, beside Ford Island in an aerial photo taken from a Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. Ships seen are (L-R) USS Nevada, USS Arizona with USS Vestal moored outboard, USS Tennessee with USS West Virginia moored outboard and USS Maryland with USS Oklahoma capsized alongside. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Sailors stand amid wrecked planes at the Ford Island seaplane base, watching as the destroyer USS Shaw explodes in the center background during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The forward magazines of the destroyer USS Shaw explode after a bombing attack by Japanese planes on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016 U.S. Navy/U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
The forward magazine of the destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the second Japanese attack wave on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A Japanese bomber aircraft is seen in the foreground of an aerial photograph taken by a Japanese pilot during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. US Navy/NEA Services/Handout via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
An officer on the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku watches as planes take off to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The Kanji inscription at left is a commander order to pilots to do their duty to destroy (the enemy). The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A Japanese Navy Type 97 Kate carrier attack plane takes off from the aircraft carrier Shokaku, en route to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A chart identifying ship mooring locations and entitled (at upper left) "Report on positions of enemy fleet at anchorage", is seen after it was recovered from a Japanese aircraft that was downed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. US Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Japanese Navy Type 99 Val carrier bombers prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. December 7, 1941. The ship in the background is the carrier Soryu. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
An aerial photograph taken the year before the Japanese raid shows the East Loch and the the Fleet Air Base on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S. May 3, 1940. Visible are the carrier Yorktown, ten battleships, seventeen cruisers, two light cruisers, and over thirty destroyers. The 75th anniversary of the attack, which brought the United States into World War Two, is marked on December 7, 2016. U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

WAR BEGINS

The shock of the Pearl Harbor attack is vividly illustrated in an exhibit at Massachusetts' Museum of World War II, which features relics including a West Point cadet's letter to his father, then-Brigadier General Dwight Eisenhower, on preparing himself for war.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany declared war on the United States.

Will Lehner, 95, was among those who had a chance to fight back in the Pearl Harbor attack. The 2nd class naval fireman was in the boiler room of the USS Ward, which was patrolling the entrance to the harbor, when crew members spotted a Japanese submarine.

"That submarine was on the surface and our skipper didn't know if it was ours or not," Lehner, 20 at the time, said at the Los Angeles event. "He said, 'Load your guns.'"

"The first shot went right over the top, the next shot right after it hit that submarine and punched a hole in it."

After the war, a historical discrepancy nagged at Lehner. The Japanese submarine had not been recovered and many historians doubted that it existed. That changed in 2002 when the submarine was found.

"For 62 years," Lehner said, "nobody believed us."

For his part, Leavelle would be touched twice by the hand of history. After the war, he became a policeman in Texas. On Nov. 24, 1963, he was the Dallas officer handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald when the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy was shot to death by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.