People attend the 76th Commemoration on Pearl Harbor Attack at the Navy Memorial Plaza in Washington D.C., the Unite States, on Dec. 7, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
At around 13:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) outside the U.S. Navy Memorial Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C., a senior veteran in a camel overcoat began, with the help of a navy officer, to stumble forward and fumble to move a wreath in front of over 100 guests.
Amidst the ensuing grievous music played by a navy band on this sunny yet chilling Thursday afternoon, the man slowly put his hand over the chest, the soldier beside him saluted the wreath, and members of the audience bowed their heads in a minute's silent mourning. It was all quiet except the rustling national flags flying above the crowd at half-staff in the piecing wind.
LAST LIVING WITNESS
It was part of the annual wreath laying ceremony held by the Navy Memorial in remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. What was new this year was the attendance of retired Captain Robert K. Kaufman, the last living American to witness the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri that ended World War II (WWII).
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese army attacked the U.S. navy base at Pearl Harbor, causing the death of 2,335 U.S. service members and 68 civilians, and forcing the United States into WWII.
Kaufman, now in his 90th, was assigned to the United States Ship (USS) Wichita CA-45, where he participated in numerous convoy escort duties in the North Atlantic, protecting allied ships from German U-boats and Luftwaffe air attacks. After five war patrols, Kaufman was ordered to serve as the aide and flag lieutenant to Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr.. It was with this assignment that Kaufman would be given the opportunity to witness the end of WWII.
"We went to the Missouri and witnessed the ceremony... In the deck log of the Missouri for the second of September 1945...there is a list of all of the visitors and I am the last one on that list," he recalled.
Rear admiral Frank Thorp IV, president & CEO of U.S. Navy Memorial, told Xinhua that the event was in honor of those who fell on Dec. 7, 1941, and to help the public understand and appreciate the history.
"It is a day in which we will live in infamy, and a day we'll never forget in the United States," he said. "The wreath is our sign of respect for those people who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor. The attack was 76 years ago, and many of the veterans at Pearl Harbor are no longer with us. May they never be forgotten, and we as a nation always honor their legacy of sacrifice for the cause of liberty."
"We want to maintain that peace with many nations around the world, so that we will never experience those horrible days of WWII again," he noted.