On the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I was granted permission to attend a ceremony for the last remaining survivors in Honolulu. As I photographed a select few and captured each man’s story, none, if any, could talk without choking back tears. Memories drifted back to 1941 as if it was just yesterday. Some covered their pain with jokes and laughter while others could show nothing more than tears.
What linked all the portraits together were their eyes. No matter brave face they put forth their eyes gave away their lingering trauma. A web of nightmares and regret. Veteran William Temple asked why he wasn’t killed along with his shipmates. Robert Welkner laughed that the deck he just finished swabbing got covered in blood.
The veterans wore their Pearl Harbor Survivor’s caps with dignity. They smiled and laughed when young men shook their hands thanking them for their service. Their chests puffed when uniformed soldiers proudly saluted them. They blushed when young girls kissed their wrinkly cheeks. They cried together as taps bugled in the distance. They met once more, remembering their friends who died then and now. They reminisced about yesterday, cringing as if those plane were still diving at them.
Through they wore crumpled suits, bore stubbly chins and rummy eyes, these once young boys fought and won the war against Japan. These men were the start and the end of World War II.