- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday marked the 76th anniversary of Japan’s sneak attack on the Navy outpost at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but retired Capt. Robert Kaufman preferred to reminisce about the end of World War II, not the United States’ entry into it.

During a wreath-laying ceremony at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Capt. Kaufman spoke about being on the USS Missouri, moored in Tokyo Bay, and witnessing the Japanese unconditional surrender to the United States in September 1945.

“And I could only think, now we were at the end of that war,” the 98-year-old veteran told a gathering of officers, sailors and civilians. “And I was there, and I was 24 years old.”

The audience of about 100 people applauded Capt. Kaufman and other speakers during the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony, which featured a color guard and a wreath-laying atop the Navy Memorial’s granite sea map. The speeches, pomp and circumstance drew in unsuspecting tourists.

“I actually have a brother in the Navy so it was amazing that we were here,” said Josie Marquez, 53, of Texas.

Mrs. Marquez happened to be touring the District with her friend from Kentucky, Becky Chelf, 49, when they spotted all the state flags flying. They were still carrying their bags from the White House gift shop when they sat down to watch the ceremony.

Mrs. Chelf said it is important to make time to honor the fallen no matter how long ago the battles were, “so the younger generation doesn’t forget,” she told The Washington Times.

Mrs. Marquez agreed. “The sacrifices that these men and women made in that time were very important,” she said.

Retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp IV, president and CEO of the Navy Memorial, expressed similar sentiments.

“History is complete with people forgetting,” Adm. Thorp said, adding that’s not an option when it comes to the Navy learning lessons of preparedness from Pearl Harbor. “From a military perspective, we can’t forget.”

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japan’s navy launched more than 300 planes from six aircraft carriers to surprise attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The devastation was unprecedented: more than 2,400 service personnel killed and 1,000 wounded, 180 aircraft destroyed, four battleships sunk and widespread damage to other ships and facilities.

The Japanese intended the attack to prevent the United States’ entry into the war. Instead, it galvanized U.S. resolve, eventually leading to Americans defeating the Japanese in the Pacific.

Thursday’s wreath-laying was a somber affair, as “Taps” played. But when Capt. Kaufman delivered his speech, even the admirals in the audience cracked a smile over his retelling of his struggle to pack his luggage when he was a new Naval Academy graduate.

After the ceremony, the brass section of the Navy Band switched to upbeat songs for marching that had a few children in the back dancing.

Adm. Thorp captured the uplifting feeling when he told The Times that ultimately the ceremony was to celebrate people like Capt. Kaufman and those at Pearl Harbor who fought and helped win a world war.

“It’s funny here in 2017 that sounds like a cliche because you and I don’t even think about that, but they did,” he said. “They saved the world and democracy.”

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