Early in the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese submarines and carrier- based planes attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Nearby military airfields were also attacked by the Japanese planes. Eight American battleships and 13 other naval vessels were sunk or badly damaged, almost 200 American aircraft were destroyed, and approximately 3,000 naval and military personnel were killed or wounded. The attack marked the entrance of Japan into World War II on the side of Germany and Italy, and the entrance of the United States on the Allied side. On the anniversary of this attack, survivors Mr. Fritcher and Mr. Duffy, surrounded by other survivors, their children and their grandchildren, then commenced an impromptu seminar on war and remembrance. They explained what it was like when warplanes painted with the Rising Sun streaked in low across Pearl Harbor and dropped torpedoes that made their battleship, in the words of Mr. Fritcher, "jump around like a top on a hardwood floor." Their chatty seminar may not have been as precise or authoritative as the scholarly conference sessions held at Pearl Harbor, which detailed how the Japanese raid burned and drowned and blew apart 2,390 Americans, destroyed much of the Pacific Fleet and pushed the United States into war. The Texan and the Iowan neglected to explain why Pearl Harbor became a defining moment in world history or how it goaded the United States into becoming the planet's pre-eminent power. Instead, they told of how their minds were imprinted with the sight of paint flowing like water off the superheated bulkhead of a flaming battleship. They talked about how their consciences were seared by watching their friends catch fire in burning oil and die screaming. Mr. Duffy said he had always been frozen up inside because of what he saw here 60 years ago. Mr. Fritcher and Mr. Duffy, without ever meeting or noticing each other, had managed not to die together, not only at Pearl Harbor, when the California went down, but also during the invasion of Guadalcanal. Both served there aboard the cruiser Astoria, which the Japanese sank at about 2 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1942. The Texan and the Iowan jumped off the flaming cruiser and spent the night in the Solomon Sea as sharks, excited by the blood of the wounded, picked off their shipmates. Mr. Fritcher, who was shot up with shrapnel and grabbed a life jacket before he jumped, was in the water for 10 hours. Mr. Duffy treaded water for five hours without the benefit of a life jacket. He was reported missing in action, but the government figured out he was not dead after just one day. This was Mr. Duffy's third Pearl Harbor reunion. He came the first two times, for the 25th and 50th reunions, with a group of survivors from northern Iowa. Now, he said, his buddies are dead or unable to travel. He traveled this time with his 54- year-old son, John, and daughter-in- law, Paula. They carried around a thick album of photographs, Navy documents, news clippings and two telegraphs from a rear admiral — one that said he was missing, another that said he had been found. "My son didn't realize all I went through, but now he is gung-ho," Mr. Duffy said. "He knows my record better than I do." About 1,100 veterans of World War II die every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The events of remarkable times call upon people of all stripes to be remarkable. To you, what is heroism?
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