PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- This will be their last visit to this watery grave to share stories, exchange smiles, find peace, and salute their fallen friends.
This, they say, will be their final farewell.
With their number quickly dwindling, survivors of Pearl Harbor will gather today one last time to honor those killed by the Japanese 65 years ago, and to mark a date that lives in infamy.
"This will be one to remember," said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. "It's going to be something that we'll cherish forever."
The survivors have met here every five years for four decades, but they're now in their 80s or 90s and are not counting on a 70th reunion. They have made every effort to report for one final roll call.
"We're like the dodo bird. We're almost extinct," said Middlesworth, now an 83-year-old retiree from Upland, Calif., but then -- on Dec. 7, 1941 -- an 18-year-old Marine on the USS San Francisco.
Almost 500 survivors were expected to make the trip to Hawaii, bringing with them family members and haunting memories.
Memories of a shocking, two-hour aerial raid that destroyed or heavily damaged 21 ships and 320 aircraft, that killed 2,390 people and wounded 1,178, that plunged the United States into World War II, and that set in motion the events leading to atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
" We're witnessing history," said Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. "We are seeing the passing of a generation."