Pearl Harbor memorial marks 71 years since infamous attack

PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII - DECEMBER 7:   Howard Snell salutes the American Flag on December 7, 2010 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.</p>

PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII - DECEMBER 7: Howard Snell salutes the American Flag on December 7, 2010 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Thousands of visitors are expected to descend on the Hawaiian island of Oahu to commemorate the "Day of Infamy" that saw more than 350 Japanese planes attack Pearl Harbor and launch the United States into the Second World War. 

AP reports that a solemn ceremony to remember the thousands who lost their lives in the attacks will be held at 7:55 a.m., the exact time the bombing began in 1941.

A Navy guided-missile destroyer ship is expected to pass the USS Arizona, a battleship that still lies in the harbor where it sank decades ago, while Hawaii Air National Guard aircraft files overhead in missing man formation.

Friday's ceremonies mark the 71st anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor, which killed nearly 2,400 American service members and 68 civilians.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it a "Day of Infamy" and the next day the US declared war on Japan and entered into what would become World War II. 

Veterans in New Jersey met on Friday at a Pearl Harbor monument as they do ever year on the anniversary of the bombings, reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger. 

"It brings back some memories," said 92-year-old Ralph Jeffers, a Pearl Harbor survivor. "My wife wants me to stop, but I’ve been going right along. We feel that the passing of our faithful members should be remembered."

Jeffers told the newspaper that remembering that fateful day hurts a little but he's "thankful that I’m alive." Jeffers said he was an aviation machinist mate, Third Class, on the USS Curtiss. He told the newspaper that during the attack he took shelter behind a stern crane and fired at the attacking airplanes with a machine gun.

In Florida, 92-year-old veteran Abe Stein told the Miami Herald that the day of the attack still haunts his memory. 

“I was helping a colonel who was cursing: ‘The Japanese just bombed the hell out of us!’’ he said Friday. “It’s like yesterday,’’ he says. “It’s not going away for me.’’

The Miami Herald reports that Pearl Harbor survivors are becoming so rare that Stein believes that he's one of only two left in South Florida. Stein said he belongs to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which used to meet every five years in Hawaii, but hasn’t since 2006.

According to the National WWII Museum, the number veterans stands at just less than two million. By 2036, it is estimated there will be no living veterans of World War II left to share their experiences. 

To honor those veterans and the thousands who died in the attacks, President Obama called flags to fly at half-staff on Friday and asked all Americans to observe the day of remembrance.

"Today, we pay solemn tribute to America's sons and daughters who made the ultimate sacrifice at Oahu," President Obama said in a statement to AP.

"As we do, let us also reaffirm that their legacy will always burn bright, whether in the memory of those who knew them, the spirit of service that guides our men and women in uniform today, or the heart of the country they kept strong and free."