They came yesterday saying they could not forget and did not want to, the nine men who bowed their heads in prayer and kneeled to touch the fragile orchid they placed on the plaque commemorating the lives lost at Pearl Harbor 43 years ago.
It had been a beautifully warm day that Sunday -- Dec. 7, 1941 -- unlike the 29-degree temperature the members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association withstood yesterday on a windy hilltop in Arlington National Cemetery. The site was near the graves of some of the 2,608 men and women who died in the surprise attack by Japanese bombers on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
"I was getting ready to go to the head to wash my whites [uniforms] and then go meet a hometown friend on the [battleship] Oklahoma," recalled Ed Terrill, then a Navy seaman on the destroyer Patterson and now an aide to Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-Minn.). "All of a sudden I saw big clouds of smoke going up over Hickam Airfield.
"Then, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a plane go overhead and drop a bomb. Then I saw the Japanese emblem on the plane. Everyone on the ship started running for the battle stations."
Henry Dettmar, a retired Army colonel, was a mechanic with the Army Air Corps at the time. "I got up, went to church, had breakfast that morning, and then reported to the hangar where we were waiting for some B-17s to come in from the States. We noticed, just before 8 a.m. , this big flight of planes coming in from the sea. They looked like the Navy's.
"Then they peeled off. The first I saw came in very low and I could see the Japanese emblem on it. We knew then we were in trouble and everything started blowing up at once."
Yesterday, as his fellow veterans and Rep. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) stood beside him at the plaque, Dettmar said there are lessons to learn from Pearl Harbor.
"Our enemies in the world today are many and powerful," Dettmar said. "Terrorists are everywhere and difficult to combat. . . . It is a big price to pay to be awakened by a major catastrophe as we were at Pearl Harbor."
Added Akaka: "If we do not remember and learn from history, surely this will repeat itself."
Then, as a bugler sounded taps in the shadow of the amphitheater behind the Tomb of the Unknowns, the men knelt to touch the plaque honoring those who were less lucky.