Marco Garcia, Associated Press
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — In wheelchairs and on walkers, the old veterans came Wednesday to remember the day 70 years ago when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But FDR's "date that will live in infamy" is becoming a more distant memory.
Fewer and fewer veterans who experienced the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, are alive to mark the anniversaries and most of them are in their 90s, many prevented by health problems from traveling to Hawaii. One survivors' group said it would disband because age and infirmity made it too difficult to carry on.
"People had other things that they wanted to do with the remainder of their lives," Pearl Harbor Survivors Association president William Muehleib said. "It was time."
The 2,390 Americans who died in the attacks are not forgotten. Besides Pearl Harbor, there are remembrances elsewhere
In Phoenix, the goal every year is to draw 1,177 people — the number who died on the USS Arizona — to march through the city, but organizers don't come close to that anymore.
Just 45 people showed up last year. On Wednesday, about 300 people gathered for a mile-long remembrance walk, carrying miniature U.S. flags and tags bearing the names of Pearl Harbor casualties.
"As time goes by, it might actually fade. This may be the last significant anniversary when we could thank a survivor. Get out there. Get your chance to thank them," event chairman Ben Ernyei said.
Those who made it to Pearl Harbor were treated to a hero's reception. The 5,000 spectators whistled, shouted and applauded loudly as the 120 or so survivors stood to be recognized, and others asked for autographs and took photos with them.
Muehleib said local chapters of his group will function as long as they have members and survivors can gather socially, but they will no longer have a formal, national organization. He also predicted survivors would attend future commemorations at Pearl Harbor.
The association — founded in 1958 — has 2,700 members, he said. There are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Pearl Harbor survivors.
President Barack Obama hailed the veterans in a statement proclaiming Wednesday as "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day."
"Their tenacity helped define the Greatest Generation and their valor fortified all who served during World War II," he said. "As a nation, we look to December 7, 1941, to draw strength from the example set by these patriots and to honor all who have sacrificed for our freedoms."
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, witnessed the attacks as a young man in Honolulu and fought in World War II, losing his right arm in combat and earning the Medal of Honor.
"As we continue to lose members of the Greatest Generation, those who witnessed the attack, lived through the war and saw the world change, we must remember the events of December 7," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
The nation has debated how to mark anniversaries and memorials before as events fade into history. New York City's mayor this year suggested it might be time to stop reading the names of nearly 3,000 Sept. 11 victims every year once that 10th anniversary passed.
Mal Middlesworth, a Marine who was on the USS San Francisco during the attack, said the survivors association formed to make sure younger generations heard about what they went through.
"They wanted young America to understand that freedom isn't free. Never has been and looks like it's never going to be," he said in the keynote address. "Remember, he who forgets history will live it again."
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