By Hugh Gentry
HONOLULU (Reuters) - A handful of aging U.S. military veterans who survived the surprise Japanese bombing raid that drew the United States into World War Two marked the 74th anniversary of the attack in a somber wreath-presentation ceremony on Monday at Pearl Harbor.
The survivors, who wore Hawaiian leis around their necks, watched as a bugler played "Taps" and onlookers placed their hands on their hearts.
The Japanese air and naval assault on Dec. 7, 1941, a date that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt said "will live in infamy," took 2,390 American lives. The United States declared war on Japan the next day.
Nearly half of those who perished at Pearl Harbor were sailors aboard the battleship USS Arizona, which Japanese torpedo bombers sank early in the attack, sending 1,177 of its 1,400-member crew to their deaths.
U.S. Navy officials said about two dozen veterans who were on the island of Oahu the morning of the attack were well enough to attend commemoration ceremonies on Monday. The number of aging survivors able to attend the ceremony has been dwindling steadily over the years.
Participants in the ceremony on Monday gathered at Kilo Pier, looking out over the USS Arizona Memorial built over the remains of the ship.
Three of the survivors took a small boat from the pier to the USS Arizona Memorial where they participated in a wreath-presentation ceremony. Wreaths from all branches of the U.S. military and the states of Hawaii and Arizona were propped up on wooden stands for the commemoration.
A whistle blast from the USS Preble in the water beyond the pier marked the beginning of a moment of silence at the ceremony, which was broken by a flyover of F-22 fighter jets.
Later, the crew of the USS Preble stood on the bow of the ship and saluted as the Navy ship passed by.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Peter Cooney)