PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla --
In a ceremony honoring survivors of the horrific events that unfolded on American soil 70 years ago, the Air Force Technical Applications Center paid tribute to four U.S. servicemen and several surviving spouses who were all impacted by the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
The guests of honor were recognized for their heroism and bravery they displayed after Japan's surprise raid on the Hawaiian Islands early that Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, devastating the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet in less than two hours, and propelling the United States into World War II.
The event was steeped in ceremonial flair with the Honor Guard posting the colors, the national anthem sung by AFTAC Senior Airman Kerrilee Meeker, and an invocation by 45th Space Wing Chaplain (Capt.) Jason Gunnels. Additionally, Airmen from AFTAC and Sailors from the Naval Ordnance Test Unit at Cape Canaveral stood in formation to render their respect to the survivors and the event's keynote speaker, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Richard P. Jeffrey.
Col. Aaron Prupas, AFTAC commander, praised the combat veterans for their unwavering service. "We owe it to our children to never forget the agony and heroism you felt that day. We owe it to you to tell the world how you stood up to be counted upon."
After his remarks, Prupas introduced 94-year-old Jeffrey, who offered his personal and first-hand account into the attacks as he served aboard the battleship USS Maryland.
"Our ship was damaged when a Japanese bomb exploded nearby, but despite being hit, we were prepared to sail in record time," said Jeffrey. "Japanese leaders assumed the attack would have kept most American naval vessels out of the war for more than a year, but many were back in service within two months."
Jeffrey is a U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1939 graduate. In addition to his time aboard USS Maryland, he later served with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe (later Supreme Headquarters Allied Command Europe).
After the speakers' presentations, Sailors from NOTU performed a 21-gun salute using 40mm cannons, and the base Honor Guard played Taps. Then in keeping with military tradition, the most junior member present - AFTAC Airman 1st Class Nicole Hart - and the most senior member present - Captain Jeffrey - unsheathed a ceremonial sword to cut the cake.
The event has become a time-honored tradition for the Center, with 2011 being the 17th consecutive year it's been hosted by the organization. More than 100 spectators attended the event. This was the first year that AFTAC invited Sailors from NOTU to participate, and organizers hope it won't be the last.
"When AFTAC leadership asked us to participate, we jumped at the chance," said Cmdr. Michael LaPrade, NOTU executive officer. "The raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was a horrendous act of war against the United States, and knowing what these survivors went through made our participation in the ceremony all the more important for our Sailors at NOTU. It was indeed a privilege to be a part of it."
The crowd grew silent when two Army Junior ROTC cadets from Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High School conducted a flag-folding ceremony as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech to Congress, including his famed, "...a date which will live in infamy..." echoed over the loudspeaker through the courtyard.
"I think it's extremely important for us to continue to tell the tales of the survivors' acts of heroism," said Col. Jim Roberts, AFTAC vice commander. "Our Pearl Harbor ceremony has become somewhat of a tradition for us - one which we are very proud of. We pledge to continue to tell that historic story, even after the last survivor is no longer with us. We owe it to future generations."
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EDITOR'S NOTE: The Air Force Technical Applications Center located at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., provides national authorities quality technical measurements to monitor nuclear treaty compliance and develops advanced proliferation monitoring technologies to preserve our nation's security.