JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Beaches Honor Guard fired their rifles toward the cloudy chill above Monday morning to salute all who were killed or injured 79 years ago when the Japanese attacked the pride of the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet and began the American involvement in World War II.
The salute followed multiple rings of a ship's bell to remember the 21 U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps members from Jacksonville who died at Pearl Harbor, or fought there and have passed away in the past year.
"Walter R. Barnes," chaplain Fred Hill said before a bell toll in the Fleet Reserve Association's lodge for men like Ronald Taylor Fleming, Edward M. Turner and David L. Pitts.
That 1941 attack started at 7:55 a.m. on a quiet Sunday. By the time it was over, 2,403 soldiers, sailors and civilians had been killed as six battleships were sunk or destroyed along with dozens of airplanes.
At 9 a.m. on Monday, the Fleet Reserve held a ceremony of remembrance for those victims, branch president Tommy Stephens saying he hopes no one forgets what happened that day.
"That one event brought us together probably as much if not more than the events of Sept. 11," Stephens said. "We owe it to the ones who went before us and paid the ultimate sacrifice. ... It really strikes home for us who served aboard ships, the pain and devastation that event caused and it is very important to remember."
Although the ceremony was not an official military event, Naval Station Mayport staff attended. That included base public information officer Bill Austin, who said it is very important that they remember the attack and honor their shipmates of 79 years ago.
"The younger generations especially should learn and know what happened," said Austin, a Navy veteran himself. "I'm very pleased that Fleet Reserve Branch 290 has not stopped this remembrance for all these years, and continue the tradition to educate and to remember those fallen."
Fleet Reserve is open to all current and former enlisted members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, founded in 1924 by Navy Chief Yeoman George Carlin to protect the pay and benefits of enlisted Sea Service members and their families on Capitol Hill.
Monday's ceremony was small, held inside its lodge on Mayport Road. The chapter has held this memorial annually since 1968, beginning this one with a pledge of allegiance and a prayer to "have mercy on the souls our our departed shipmates," chapter chaplain Fred Hill said.
America was brought into World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The 16 million soldiers, sailors and nurses who fought in that war are now in their late 80s and 90s, and only about 325,000 of them remaining, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics.
This was not the only local event commemorating the attack, with K9s for Warriors and the We Can Be Heroes Foundation holding a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Breakfast on Saturday with local World War II veterans in person, organizers said.
Fleet Reserve's ceremony included an ode to the U.S.S. Arizona, which sunk in Pearl Harbor with its crew aboard, accounting for 1,177 of the total attack's fatalities. Hill read an ode to those victims in the massive ship, beginning with its quiet anchorage on Battleship Row, "where I suffered my first blow."
"The aggressors came on relentlessly; attack, attack with no respite," Hill said. "My boilers blew with a resounding blast when a bomb dropped own my stack. Magazines were next to go, the blow that broke my back."
The ceremony included copies of newspapers on display, the Dec. 8 Florida Times-Union headline declaring "JAPAN DECLARES WAR ON U.S. AND BRITAIN" as a subhead says "Hawaii Hit Hard Declares White House."
The memorial ended outside when honor guard member John Poe put down his rifle and played a mournful Taps on a bugle as a gentle shower moved over Mayport.