NEW YORK — This could be their final farewell.
Thursday, 65 years after they witnessed the horror of Pearl Harbor, nearly 500 ex-servicemen will return to Hawaii. Another 3,500 unable to make the trek will remember the moment in their own way.
They will salute, for perhaps the last time, 2,390 brothers-in-arms who perished as Japanese bombers turned the harbor into an inferno.
“I still remember that day clearly,” former New York soldier Daniel Fruchter, 88, said from his home in Eastchester, N.Y.
“Pearl Harbor will be happening all over again in my head.”
Survivors have gathered every five years for four decades at Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona memorial, a sunken battleship which entombs crewmembers still trapped inside.
But, now in their 80s and 90s, the veterans know that few will see a 70th anniversary.
“We’re like the dodo bird, we’re almost extinct,” said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
“This will be one to remember. It’s going to be something that we’ll cherish forever.”
Fruchter, one of an estimated 200 New York survivors and chairman of the association’s state branch, cancelled plans to be in Hawaii after undergoing surgery.
But his spirit will be at that watery grave.
“I’ll be sitting at home and Pearl Harbor will be in my head,” he said.
“There aren’t many of us left, but it’s important to us that we don’t let people forget what happened. People have to remember their heritage and what made this country what it is today.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, 23-year-old Fruchter was relaxing in his barracks, a short distance from the harbor, on his last day before he was supposed to be discharged from the army.
“It was out of nowhere,” he said. “The planes came over and started dropping bombs and strafing us with machine gun fire.
“We knew immediately who they were, and where they were going.”
By the time he arrived at the harbor, two waves of bombers had destroyed the fleet.
“I saw bodies in the water, but there was a smoke screen you could not penetrate,” he said.
“That night, we climbed a volcano and looked down on it. The fires were burning through the smoke. All the planes had been flattened. The ships were destroyed.