When Betty DuBrul was 15, she had a schoolgirl crush on her brother's best friend, a 23-year-old Navy man stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

So when the lights went up at the Brooklyn movie theater where she was seated on Dec. 7, 1941, DuBrul learned that she had become personally entwined in the coming war.

"A man walked out onto the stage and said, 'I regret to inform you our country is at war. Pearl Harbor was bombed this morning,' " said DuBrul, 88, of Levittown, describing how she learned of the devastating attack that drew the United States into World War II.

"It was a shock," said DuBrul, who married Don DuBrul, the Navy man she had worried about. "At 15, it doesn't really register what was happening. But all I could think about was Don, because I knew he was there."

Seventy-two years later, and after her husband's death in 2008, DuBrul finds herself among a dwindling handful of Long Islanders -- widows of survivors and survivors themselves -- who continue to honor the events of that fateful Sunday morning.

In a prewar surprise attack that morning, some 350 Japanese warplanes struck at military installations on the island of Oahu, wiping out much of America's Pacific fleet.

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"It was very important to these men to remember what happened at Pearl Harbor so that we would never let this happen again," said Joyce Tupper, 77, of Massapequa, whose husband, Ted Tupper, was president of the Long Island chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association until he died in 2008. "We want to keep it going."

The association lists fewer than a dozen remaining Long Island veterans who survived the two-hour attack, during which more than 2,000 Americans perished.

At the association's meeting last month, widows outnumbered Pearl Harbor survivors 6 to 2. The meeting was convened at a single table at the Empress Diner in East Meadow.


DuBrul, who with Tupper and others plans to attend a Pearl Harbor commemoration at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, said keeping the association going is a tribute by the widows to what their husbands stood for.

"You see these old, gray-haired men, and you realize they saved America," said DuBrul, whose husband survived both Pearl Harbor and the Normandy invasion of Europe in June 1944.

The Pearl Harbor attack continues to hold an emotional place in the American psyche, said Michael Barnhart, a professor of Japanese military history at Stony Brook University. A memorial to the 1,177 crew members killed during the sinking of the USS Arizona draws 1.5 million visitors annually.

Barnhart said Pearl Harbor persuaded Americans then that their fate depended on a more muscular military policy, much as the 9/11 terror attacks militarized America a little more than a decade ago.

"It's an event that the survivors and others of that generation who fought in the war don't want younger Americans ever to forget," said Barnhart, who also likened Pearl Harbor to the 1836 rout of Texas forces at the Alamo. "There is something heroic about the underdog, knowing they were unprepared, knowing they were not going to win, yet they gave it everything they had, that strikes the same chord."