Long Island will mark a first, a sad one, on Saturday.
No known survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack remains on Long Island to be part of the day's ceremony, said officials at the Farmingdale air museum that will mark the 78th anniversary of the attack on Saturday.
Since the museum began its annual tributes in 2000, a Pearl Harbor veteran from the Island has been part of the commemoration, said Lawrence Starr, manager of the American Airpower Museum.
"It's very emotional and sad," said Starr, 68, of Syosset. "You lose the connection with history. … There's nothing like shaking the hand of someone who was there."
As the years have passed, the number of known survivors has dwindled, he said.
"When we first started, we had at least a dozen of them in attendance," Starr said. "Two years ago we had two, and one year ago we had one. He passed away about a month after the ceremony."
Pearl Harbor survivors still can be found around the country, Starr said.
Even as the venue pays tribute to Pearl Harbor veterans on Saturday, he said, the public is invited to join 25 veterans of World War II being honored at the 10:30 a.m. ceremony at the museum, which is stocked with vintage aircraft and exhibits honoring the war effort.
The observance will include a military chaplain blessing 78 roses, one for each year since the attack on Dec. 7, 1941. The roses will be blessed with water taken from Pearl Harbor. After the ceremony, a vintage World War II plane will be flown to the Statue of Liberty, where the roses will be dropped into the sea in memory of those lost in the attack.
The Long Island Air Force Association and the U.S. Navy are co-hosting the ceremony, and the vintage aircraft is provided by the GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team.
Looking back, Starr recalled hearing the stories of those who were at Pearl Harbor. They talked about the utter shock and disbelief they felt at the time.
"It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Pearl Harbor, a tropical paradise," Starr said.
All of a sudden, planes appeared in the air, he continued. Many thought they were American aircraft until they started hearing explosions and gunfire.
The Japanese wanted to make a preemptive strike against the Americans, but they made a terrible mistake. Although they were able to sink battleships at Pearl Harbor, the American aircraft carriers were out to sea at the time, Starr said.
Within months, most of the battleships were raised and retrofitted, Starr said. Then the Americans delivered a big counter-blow against the Japanese — the attack known as the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.
The American air attack on the Japanese mainland, using B-25 bombers launched from an aircraft carrier — was an important boost to American morale, Starr said.
The museum has a B-25 bomber on display. It didn't participate in that attack, but it's an impressive piece of war machinery. And it still flies, Starr said.