The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Gerard Barbosa was below deck on the USS Raleigh, docked at Pearl Harbor.
"I heard this loud explosion," the 89-year-old East Meadow resident recalled Saturday. "It felt like the ship came out of the water."
The petty officer ran to an anti-aircraft gun and started firing back at the swooping Japanese planes.
The light cruiser had been hit by a torpedo and a bomb, and was in danger of capsizing, but the ship survived and its gunners would be credited with downing five enemy fighters -- a tally Barbosa still shrugs off.
"We weren't counting," he said.
Barbosa was one of three veterans honored on the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale Saturday.
The ceremony ended with a plane taking off from Republic Airport to drop 72 roses -- 71 red and one white in memory of 9/11 -- over the Statue of Liberty.
Barbosa, who later fought in Europe, wore the Legion of Honor medal that the French government awarded him for his service in the Normandy invasion.
Before the ceremony, he said it's important for young people to learn about World War II.
"If they don't . . . try to explain it to the children, what we did is going to fade away," he said. "This is history, and some of us aren't going to be living to come to another ceremony."
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) gave certificates and American flags to Barbosa and two fellow Pearl Harbor veterans: Richard Abeles, 92, of Brentwood, a radio operator who served on the destroyer USS Dale; and Seymour Blutt, 95, of Manhattan, an Army Air Corps veteran who served at Hickam Field.
Two other local survivors of the attack -- Bernard Berner, 92, of South Setauket, and Michael Montelione, 94, of Massapequa -- were unable to attend.
The Long Island chapter of the Air Force Association organized the event. Pearl Harbor veteran Joe Hydrusko started the rose-dropping tradition in 1970, and the annual flights continued after he died in 1983.
"It's an honor to come here and pay our respects to people who paid the ultimate sacrifice," said Sal Scarlato of Hauppauge, who was 8 when Pearl Harbor was attacked and later served as a Marine in the Korean War.
"It was a tragedy, that's what it was. That's why it's something to remember," he said.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) told the packed audience that the nation needs to take care of those who served and remember how Pearl Harbor changed America -- and Long Island.
"Long Islanders crossed oceans and stormed beaches and leaped hills and freed France and liberated Europe and went to the Pacific . . . and came back to this place and looked at the moon and said, 'We can go there, too,' " Israel said.