Today marks 72 years since America's isolation from growing global conflict ended with a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy's fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

American Ships and Aircraft in Ruins at Pearl Harbor (US Navy)

Families, veterans and everyday citizens are gathering at the spot where the USS Arizona has lain submerged since that day, where hundreds upon hundreds of sailors were entombed.

They're also at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Ocean County Freeholder Gerry Little serves as the county's liaison to its 60,000-plus ex-military members. The Greatest Generation, he notes grimly, cannot outrun time.

"The Pearl Harbor Survivors' Association once had more than 84,000 servicemen and servicewomen who survived the attack," he said. "Today, there are less than 3,000 of those survivors left."

People in the United States weren't fully prepared for the horrors that they were about to encounter, said Little, but their sacrifices produced rewards that remain intact.

"That generation stood in the way of the greatest evil in the history of the world," he marveled. "They saved the world from that evil and helped to create the United States of America into the greatest democracy in the history of the world, a defender of freedom around the world. No nation has accomplished the things that our nation has done."

Gathering at Pearl Harbor

About 3,000 people are expected to gather at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the anniversary of the 1941 Japanese attack that launched the U.S. into World War II.

About 70 World War II veterans and survivors of the Dec. 7 bombing plan to attend Saturday's ceremony. The event will begin with a traditional Hawaiian blessing. There will be a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the bombing began 72 years ago.

The Navy and National Park Service are co-hosting the ceremony, which is open to the public.

Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia will deliver the keynote address. The Vietnam War veteran is currently secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, which is responsible for managing overseas cemeteries for fallen American troops.

Hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to Congress:

Listen to a conversation with Ocean County Freeholder and Veterans' Liaison Gerry Little:


The Associated Press contributed to this report