December 7th, 2011
10:16 AM ET

Pearl Harbor survivors honor friends, ensure memories never die

Editor's Note: Live coverage of Pearl Harbor remembrance events begin at 7:30 a.m ET and 12:30 p.m. ET. You can watch all of the events live on here.

Survivors of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor will remember the 2,400 people who lost their lives 70 years ago Wednesday.

Flying from aircraft carriers on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese aviators attacked eight battleships, destroying two, and left a trail of death and destruction across the verdant landscape. They also struck other military installations on Oahu, Hawaii. The attack shook America's confidence and ushered the country into World War II.

For 70 years, survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor have captivated listeners with their firsthand accounts, recalling buddies who died in their arms or the glasses worn by a low-flying Japanese pilot.

The annual commemoration in Hawaii begins at 7:40 a.m. (12:40 p.m. ET ) at the Pearl Harbor visitor center.

They have participated in solemn wreath-laying ceremonies and spoken to civic groups and school children about the infamous day and the need for the United States to remain vigilant. But the gradual loss of the World War II generation has accelerated, and this year, perhaps more than any before it, evidence of a tide change is inescapable.

So for them, today will be another chance to share their stories of what happened, in the hopes that their memories live on even after they don't.

Bob Kerr, 90, can still draw a detailed map of the Hawaiian island of Oahu from memory. He points out Pearl Harbor, the adjacent Hickam Field, and even the path the Japanese planes took over the island on December 7, 1941.

"It’s important for people to know that there was such a thing as an attack in 1941 on December the 7th," Kerr said. "It’s part of history. It’s one of the biggest events in our history. 9/11 may equal it, but it can't be forgotten."