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Saying so long to Pearl Harbor

This will be their last visit to this watery grave to share stories, exchange smiles, find peace and salute their fallen friends.

This, they say, will be their final farewell.

With their number quickly dwindling, survivors of Pearl Harbor will gather today for one last time to honor those killed by the Japanese 65 years ago, and to mark a date that lives in infamy.

"This will be one to remember," said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. "It's going to be something that we'll cherish forever."

The survivors have met here every five years for four decades, but they're now in their 80s or 90s and are not counting on a 70th reunion. They have made every effort to report for one final roll call.

"We're like the dodo bird. We're almost extinct," said Middlesworth, now an 83-year-old retiree from Upland, Calif., but then - on Dec. 7, 1941 - an 18-year-old Marine on the USS San Francisco.

Nearly 500 survivors from across the nation were expected to make the trip to Hawaii, bringing with them 1,300 family members, numerous wheelchairs and too many haunting memories.

Memories of a shocking, two-hour aerial raid that destroyed or heavily damaged 21 ships and 320 aircraft, that killed 2,390 people and wounded 1,178 others, that plunged the United States into World War II and set in motion the events that led to atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"I suspect not many people have thought about this, but we're witnessing history," said Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. "We are seeing the passing of a generation."

The attack may have occurred 65 years ago, but survivors say they can still hear the explosions, smell the burning flesh, taste the sea water and hear the cries.

"The younger ones were crying, 'Mom! Mom! Mom!' " said Edward Chun, 83, who witnessed the attack from the Ten-Ten dock, just a few hundred yards from Battleship Row.

Four in five servicemen on the USS Arizona - 1,177 in all - did not survive the day. It was the greatest loss of life of any ship in U.S. naval history. They remain entombed in the sunken hull.

There are those who are unable to forgive the Japanese, but others testify to the power of reconciliation.

"There are some guys that are going to die with hate in their heart. I don't have in me any hatred in my heart," said 87-year-old survivor Lee Soucy of Plainview Texas. "They were doing their job just like we were."

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