Remembering the Day That Will Live in Infamy - WBAY

Return to Pearl Harbor

Remembering the Day That Will Live in Infamy

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It's one of the most historic and tragic dates in American history.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941, launched our country into World War II, changing the course of history.

And for a group of Wisconsin's oldest living veterans, that day truly lives in infamy.

These men are Pearl Harbor survivors. The youngest is 88; the oldest is 94.

And thanks to Old Glory Honor Flight, they had one last chance to go back and pay tribute to their fallen comrades.

"I know for at least one of you it's the first time back since 1941 so it's very special," Home of the Brave tour historian Olav Holst said.

Nearly two million people make the journey to Pearl Harbor each year. Only a few bring Pearl Harbor with them.

"Sometimes I can't remember what you told me last week, but I can remember everything, dates and everything else dating back 70 years ago when I was a 17-year old kid that came here to Pearl Harbor," Firman Balza said.

Just hours after touching down in Hawaii, 18 Wisconsin veterans prepare to make history.

"We have never seen a group of Pearl Harbor survivors this big come back to Pearl Harbor from one state. This is a first," Holst said.

The veterans gather in an area known as Contemplation Circle. In the distance is the USS Arizona Memorial.

For each of these survivors, that Sunday morning more than 70 years ago comes alive.

"Very end over there, there's a sea plane hangar. He dropped his bomb in that hangar and it was a great big red ball of fire and a big black puff of smoke -- and then all hell broke those," Firman described.

"It was chaos is what it was," Bud Sweeney said.

"And all I could see was those Rising Suns flying around," Joe Sweeney remembers. "Wow."

"Them Japanese planes came in from here and here and here. I don't know how they didn't run into each other there were so many of them," Balza said.

"There was one fella kneeling on the floor, and I grabbed him and said, 'It's too late to pray now, we better get the hell out of here!'" Ed Miklavcic told us.

"We were hit by a torpedo," George Hutton said. "We took a lot of hits."

"And you take the Arizona, them guys got up there that morning and had their breakfast or whatever and they're still right there,' Firman said.

Before the sun sets, Firman and the rest of theses veterans will step foot on the memorial to honor the hundreds of entombed sailors. For now, though, it's time for the first of many group pictures.

A large crowd has gathered. On this day at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, these Wisconsin Pearl Harbor survivors are the main attraction.

Action 2 News will continue showcasing the veterans' emotional return to Pearl Harbor all this week on Action 2 News at 5 and 10.

Monday at 10, you'll see the emotional wreath-laying at the USS Arizona. The Navy took us out there after-hours, and we were the only ones there. It's an experience the veterans and their loved ones will never forget.

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