For Vets That Lived WWII, Time Short To See Memorial

Though it's been 70 years since the start of World War II, the national monument to commemorate that war is only eight years old. For many veterans of that war, time is running out for them to pay the memorial a visit.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Yesterday was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the attack that launched the United States into the Second World War. Of the original 16 million service members, only two million are still alive. And a group of them traveled from all over the country to visit the national memorial yesterday. Brenda Salinas has this report.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: Jim Hardwick has traveled a long way to get to D.C.

JIM HARDWICK: Welcome aboard, young man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey, Morty.

SALINAS: He's come to all the way from Dallas, Texas for one purpose: to see the World War II memorial.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So, coming up on the right is the World War II memorial.

SALINAS: It's a cloudy December day. It's cold, but he doesn't seem to mind. This memorial is a special place for him. He saw it for the first time two years ago and he's happy to have a second visit.

HARDWICK: I think it's beautiful. Inside there on the walls are some of the battles I was in.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (unintelligible).

HARDWICK: Hello. Thank you so much.

SALINAS: Jim has 17 grandchildren. They haven't been to the memorial yet, but he knows that one day they'll come here and remember him.

HARDWICK: Say, oh, my granddaddy was there. That's what they'll say.

SALINAS: Jim hopes that they'll remember his stories too. He was only 17 when he enlisted in the Navy.

HARDWICK: I joined the Navy to escape the Great Depression, but what I discovered was the Great War. I didn't expect that.

SALINAS: At the time, war was raging in Europe, but the U.S. had only been in a few Marine skirmishes to protect merchants.

HARDWICK: I got my orders to go aboard the USS Honolulu in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And I said whoopee. I couldn't get further away from the danger than Pearl Harbor.

SALINAS: Seven months later, Jim went to a luau on a nearby beach to celebrate his 18th birthday. He woke up the next day to the sound of explosions, confusion, shouting. He was ordered to return to his ship. On the way, he saw the damage from the torpedo attack: four ships sinking, solid black clouds and flames, the smell of fuel oil burning. He made his way back to his damaged ship. The attack was over. But the war wouldn't be over for another four years.

HARDWICK: Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of World War II for me. My ship participated in so many things in the Pacific that were greater in my mind than the attack on Pearl Harbor.

SALINAS: As much as Jim appreciates the annual day of remembrance, he wants people to remember that Pearl Harbor was only one day in a very long war. He hopes to visit the memorial again someday. He is, after all, only 89. Brenda Salinas, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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