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As Pearl Harbor survivors' ranks thin on LI, some vow to keep memorials going

Fred DiFabio, a Vietnam War veteran from Huntington,

Fred DiFabio, a Vietnam War veteran from Huntington, sits inside the American Airpower Museum in East Farmingdale with photos from the attack on Pearl Harbor, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

At a ceremony Sunday in Farmingdale, Fred DiFabio will be among those looking on as a plane climbs into the sky to honor the more than 2,400 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor.

The aerial tribute, culminating in a solemn drop of roses near the Statue of Liberty, started in 1970. "We try to keep alive the accounts of people who were manning the guns, and who can tell us what happened that day," said DiFabio, 73, of Huntington, who has directed the rose-dropping flights for 19 years as a member of the Long Island Air Force Association.

The American Airpower Museum ceremony was once one of many Pearl Harbor remembrances held on Long Island. Time has thinned the number of events -- and the ranks of veterans still able to recount the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.

This year, DiFabio is hoping three survivors -- all in their 90s -- will be healthy enough to attend the ceremony. Three others have died in the past year alone, he said.

Sunday marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack that thrust America into the war. The two-hour air assault killed 2,403 sailors, Marines and others, and sank or damaged 21 ships.

For decades since, crowds gathered at Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, village greens and military cemeteries across Long Island to honor the men and women who perished at Pearl Harbor, or who were fortunate enough to survive.

But one by one, many of those ceremonies have ended.

Calverton National Ceremony stopped hosting Pearl Harbor commemorations about five years ago. And it's been a few years since veterans organizations in Freeport held their last event marking the anniversary, a post leader said.

The remaining events are led by passionate advocates such as DiFabio, a Vietnam veteran.

Members of AMVETS Post 88 in Massapequa have organized a gathering of members of fellow veterans and civic groups Sunday at the central flagpole at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn. The Lake Ronkonkoma Heritage Association has planned a 7:48 a.m. rally near the World War II Memorial Tree across from the Fire Commissioner Building on Hawkins Avenue.

"I feel I'm fulfilling a responsibility of remembering these men who died that day," said association president Ellyn Okvist, whose father served in the Navy during the war.

DiFabio, who was born nine months before Pearl Harbor, feels a similar calling. He said what happened then should serve as a reminder that America should never let its guard down. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he said, were "almost a carbon copy of what happened 73 years ago."

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