Nobody really knows how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still alive today. Two years ago, it was estimated to be around 2,000 - most would be in their mid-90s now - and those numbers surely have dwindled.
One of them no longer with us is Ray Chavez from the San Diego suburb of Poway. Chavez visited the White House this past Memorial Day where he was celebrated as the oldest living veteran of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack.
He died Nov. 21 at the age of 106.
But living or dead, today we celebrate them all. A ceremony at 2 p.m. in New York Mills will pay tribute to this area's sailors lost that fateful day, including the Mills' Edward Bator, brothers Richard and Theodore Ingalls of Clinton, Gerald Magee of Utica and Hugh Stephenson of Sauquoit. All were aboard the USS Arizona.
Meanwhile, an 11 a.m. event at the Oneida County History Center will feature items that once belonged to a Utica sailor who died aboard the USS Arizona.
Despite the passing of years, Pearl Harbor must never become an afterthought. That day, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, shall live in infamy.
We must continue to tell the story.
Stanley Babiarz, who faithfully organizes the Mills' annual Pearl Harbor observance, begins the ceremony at 2 p.m. because that's the time it was here 77 years ago when, at 8 a.m. Pacific time, Japan attacked and decimated the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. When it was over, 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians were dead, according to the U.S. Navy Museum; another 1,143 military personnel and 35 civilians were wounded. Three battleships — the Arizona, California and West Virginia — and four other crafts were sunk. Many others were heavily damaged.
The attack brought the United States into World War II.
In 2008, Babiarz arranged to have a 9-by-20-foot flag that had flown over the Arizona Memorial in Hawaii sent here to be hoisted atop a giant flagpole built specifically for that purpose. In 2013, again thanks to Babiarz, the village dedicated the USS Arizona Pearl Harbor Monument beside the flag in Veterans Park on Main Street.
Two of the last local Pearl Harbor survivors - Harry Hale and Stanley Kozien - died in 2012 and 2016, respectively. Hale served aboard the destroyer USS Trever, while Kozien was a gunner’s mate aboard the USS St. Louis light cruiser. Kozien had only been at Pearl Harbor for about two weeks prior to the attack.
Today, there will be another addition at the annual observance: A piece of the USS Arizona.
Two years ago, Utican Gary Ford, a Navy officer, got wind of the Arizona Memorial Relic program, which makes pieces of the ship available to qualifying communities for display and memorial purposes. Ford applied for - and was granted - a relic in memory of Gerald Magee, who grew up in Cornhill and perished on the Arizona. Magee was a classmate of Ford's father at Utica Free Academy. The relic was donated to the City of Utica.
Today, Dave DeSantis, Magee's nephew, will formally donate items belonging to the sailor to the Oneida County History Center. This event will take place in the History Center's main gallery at 11 a.m. Items to be donated and displayed include a USS Arizona cruise book, photographs, certificates and multiple service medals. Magee's sister is expected to attend today's ceremony.
As for the relic, Ford is currently making plans to have it displayed.
It won't be the only relic from the Arizona featured locally. Ford had mentioned the program to Richard Kiel of New York Mills and helped him and village officials secure a relic for that community. The piece - about 2 1/2 by 4 feet - came from the Arizona’s aft deckhouse superstructure and was secured with the help of Ford's brother, Mark. Babiarz said it will be shown during the ceremony today and eventually will be displayed permanently at the Mills memorial site.
New York Mills Mayor John Bialek says today's ceremony at the village's Arizona memorial is not a long one but is a tradition despite fewer attending each year. The weather is usually cold, and 2 p.m. isn't a time convenient for most working people. But cheers to Babiarz and village leaders for maintaining this very important observance.
If you can't attend today's ceremony, make it a point to pause briefly at 2 p.m. to remember Pearl Harbor. And share the story with your kids and grandkids. This must never be forgotten.
• Gerald Magee items
What: Display of items belonging to Utican Gerald Magee, who died aboard the USS Arizona.
When: Today, 11 a.m.
Where: Oneida County History Center, 1608 Genesee St, Utica.
• Memorial service
What: Remembering those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
When: Today, 2 p.m.
Where: USS Arizona Memorial, Veterans Park, Main Street, New York Mills