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Remembering Pearl Harbor
Day of Remembrance not widely celebrated

Sixty-seven years ago today more than 2,400 Americans were killed in the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor that effectively drew the United States into World War II, where nearly a half-million more lost their lives.

The Veterans Administration estimates that approximately 1,000 World War II veterans die every day, and many believe their memories are dying, too.

Dec. 7 of each year is proclaimed National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, though it doesn't get the attention many holidays, such as Memorial Day or Veterans Day, do. There are no big parades, no Air Force flyovers, no extravagant ceremonies.

"But what about the people that died?" asked Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5255 Commander John Veverka. "We got massacred over there. We weren't just fighting for us, we were fighting for England and everybody else."

Don Barker served in the Navy from 1959 to 1965 and said he has never forgotten Pearl Harbor. His cousin was one of 109 wounded aboard the USS Nevada, which was ported in the harbor when the Japanese began their assault. The battleship was hit with at least six bombs and a torpedo. Sixty crew members died that day.

Barker's cousin, he said, rarely talked about what happened to him.

"He was burned pretty bad, had shrapnel in him and everything," Barker said. "His skull was damaged ... it was sunk in."

Barker said he pays tribute to those who died at Pearl Harbor because it was something his great aunt and uncle drilled into him. As a kid growing up, he said, that's just what you did. You honored veterans.

"It was just a different time and people respected people in the service," his wife, Niki, said.

Gwinnett Fire Department Capt. Steve Cahn is way too young to remember firsthand the events at Pearl Harbor - he wouldn't even be born for another 26 years. But he's heard the stories. And on Dec. 7, 1990, as a 24-year-old Marine headed to combat, he saw where it all happened.

"As we were pulling into Pearl Harbor, they reminded us of the date," Cahn said. "As we're going by, they tell us to stand by to render tribute to the USS Arizona and obviously being up that high on the flight deck, you can actually see the ship under the water."

Cahn said the sight of the ship and the thought of the 1,177 men who went down with her - their bodies, the wreckage, still undisturbed - gave him a sick feeling. He was actually looking at a ship, he thought, that at one point in history was under attack, full of flames and death, on its way to the ocean floor. He described the feeling as "surreal" as waves of emotions washed over him.

"Pride, knowing that here I am, a young Marine, getting ready to go to war and knowing these Marines and sailors prior to me had done their duty, stood their posts and died," he said. "I felt sorry for all those people who lost loved ones, and anger."

Cahn and his wife, Alysia, recently had the chance to return to Pearl Harbor where he visited the USS Arizona memorial, something he hadn't been able to do during his brief stay in 1990. The visit was a somber one, he said. All the emotions he felt back then returned, leaving him stunned and "just kind of standing there." Other tourists there were cutting up and laughing, but Cahn didn't feel like the memorial, which he described as "like a cemetery," was the place for playing jokes; it was a place for paying respects.

He took in the sights and sounds but Alysia snapped just one photo.

"Ol' Glory flying in the breeze," he said. "That's the only one."

Because of the tragic historical events of Dec. 7, 1941, thousands of Americans lost their lives. Thousands more were injured. Our nation was catapulted into the bloodiest war in recorded history.

And people are forgetting.

"That's what's happening with Pearl Harbor and it will happen to 9/11 if we let it," Barker said.