Saturday marks 72 years since the attack by the Japanese Imperial Navy on the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in which 2,402 Americans died, a "Day of Infamy" that launched the United States into World War II.
Navy veteran Howard Bender, 91, of Mission Viejo says he was aboard the USS Maryland in Pearl Harbor that day. He says he'd do it again.
"My wife and I, when we go down to the mall and we see all these little children that are born free and have liberty — no money can buy that," he told KPCC. "What we did as sailors and defenders of our country in those days, and only got $21 a month, it was well worth it, and I would do it again."
Bender will be recognized in a ceremony for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Saturday morning on the retired USS Iowa battleship in San Pedro. The event starts at 9 a.m. — rain or shine.
The ceremony will also honor Jack Hammett, who served as a Hospital Corpsman in the Naval Hospital across the channel from Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row.
Bender went on to serve in the Pacific theater during World War II. “I was willing to give up my freedom in order to preserve what we had in this country. That’s the way I was taught by my father who served in World War I. He said you have to do something for your country before you do anything for yourself," Bender said.
“I never have to apologize for being an American. We fought many wars and we won our freedom. It isn’t a situation where we can sit back and say we completed this objective — we have to fight every day for our freedom, because there are countries that are still after us," Bender said.
Bender volunteers as part of the Freedom Committee of Orange County, which sends veterans to classrooms to talk about their experiences.
“As long as I’m alive, I’m still going to have to keep that living history alive in the classroom," Bender said.
The Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Ceremony aboard the Iowa will take place starting at 9 a.m. at 250 South Harbor Blvd., San Pedro, Calif. 90731. The ceremony is free; ship tours cost $18 for adults, $10 for youth and $15 for senior citizens. Call 877 446-9261 for information.