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LIers mark Pearl Harbor's 70th anniversary

William Halleran shows a photo of the USS

William Halleran shows a photo of the USS Phoenix as it passes the sunken USS Arizona a few hours after after the attack onPearl Harbor. Halleran was manning a machine gun aboard the USS Phoenix during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. His brother, who died three years ago, was also aboard. (Dec. 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

William Halleran can remember exactly where he was at 5 minutes of 8 on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

At that moment, 70 years ago Wednesday, as strange aircraft swept over the horizon toward the sleepy Pacific Ocean harbor named for its rich harvest of pearl oysters, Halloran feared a great tragedy was about to befall America.

"I was with the executive officer when I heard the first explosion," said Halleran, 93, of Merrick, who was aboard the USS Phoenix in Hawaii that day. "I said, 'Hell, this is the real thing. We're at war.' "

Seventy years later, the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor remains a bitter memory for many Americans who lived through the World War II era. For the community of men and women who were at Pearl Harbor that day, the memories have never faded. Survivors, like Halleran, are in their late 80s and early 90s today.

In a lopsided battle lasting less than two hours, Japanese forces killed 2,403 U.S. military personnel and civilians, and sank or heavily damaged 21 ships of the Pacific Fleet. Eight Navy battleships were damaged or sunk. "It should teach us to never lose preparedness and to keep the military strong," Halleran said.

Halleran is among six Pearl Harbor survivors planning to attend a 10:30 a.m. ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the attack Wednesday at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.

The ceremony will feature vintage World War II airplanes, one of which will fly to the Statue of Liberty to drop 70 red roses, one for each year since the attack, over New York Harbor.

Fred DiFabio, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Long Island Chapter of the Air Force Association, a Virginia-based organization that promotes air power and defense, has organized the commemorative ceremony at the museum every year since 1994.

"We only have a few of these survivors left on Long Island," DiFabio said. "These World War II guys have a special place in my heart. My father was a World War II guy. All my relatives were."

Pearl Harbor pulled America into World War II. Within days of the attack, Germany declared war on the United States.

On Nov. 26, 1941, a Japanese fleet of 33 warships and auxiliary craft, including six aircraft carriers carrying more than 420 planes, steamed from northern Japan toward the Hawaiian Islands.

By dawn of Dec. 7, the flotilla had reached its strike position, an hour's flight north of the island of Oahu.

The attack began at 7:55 a.m. The results were devastating.

Some 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed and 159 more were damaged. Japanese attackers sank or damaged 21 ships of the Pacific Fleet, according to U.S. military records. Only 29 Japanese planes -- less than 10 percent of the attacking force -- were downed.

Gerald Barbosa, 87, of East Meadow, was aboard the light cruiser USS Raleigh when the warplanes arrived.

A native of the neighborhood just outside the gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Barbosa had enlisted the previous March, five months before his 17th birthday.

That morning, he had just finished breakfast when a general quarters alarm shattered the tropical morning's calm, notifying the ship's crew that an attack was under way.

Just south of the Raleigh, on the other side of Pearl Harbor's Ford Island, the eight U.S. battleships that were the principal target of the Japanese attack were moored.

Barbosa, who took his station at one of the ship's anti-aircraft batteries, said the sky was dark with menacing warplanes.

"It looked like a bunch of bees coming at us," said Barbosa, who also served during the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. "We just kept firing."

The Raleigh's crew was credited with shooting down five enemy aircraft. But the ship took a torpedo to its port side. With the listing craft in danger of capsizing, Barbosa and others began frantically trying to lighten its topside, unbolting equipment from the deck and casting it overboard.

Aboard the USS Phoenix, anchored a few hundred yards from the attack's epicenter, Halloran and his ship escaped unharmed.

He had a clear view of the sinking of the battleship Arizona, which took a direct hit to its forward ammunition magazine, killing 1,177 Americans.

"There was nothing," Halleran said. "Nothing but black smoke and flames."

A previous version of this story spelled William Halleran's name incorrectly.

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