'Nothing Will Stop Us:' Navy Leaders, Vets Mark Pearl Harbor Anniversary Amid Pandemic

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Adm. John Aquilino at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Pearl Harbor.
U.S. Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. John Aquilino speaks during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, Pool)

Like most events of 2020, the ceremony marking the 79th anniversary of the infamous attacks on Pearl Harbor was markedly different from past years.

"Unfortunately, this year we will not have the veterans here on site," Lt. Cmdr. Michael Genta said at the start of the mostly virtual ceremony, held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii.

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In his remarks, Rear Adm. Robert Chadwick, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Group Middle Pacific, offered "my sincere regrets and most heartfelt aloha to the Pearl Harbor survivors and other World War II veterans who could not join us here today."

"Your lives and your examples of honor, courage and commitment will never be forgotten and will continue to inspire us," Chadwick said.

Ninety-nine-year-old former Quartermaster 3rd Class Lou Conter, who survived the attack that sank the battleship Arizona, spoke for the veterans in a video message to the ceremony.

"The first day of the war was also the last they saw of it," he said of his more than 900 shipmates whose final resting place is in the hull of the Arizona, now a national memorial.

"The loss of those lives showed us what was at stake [and] their courage ignited a spark" across America that would lead to victory in World War II, said Conter, who went on to serve in PBY Catalina "flying boats" for the rest of the war, and retired from the Navy in 1967.

The ceremony began at 7:50 a.m. in Hawaii to mark the time, on a bright Sunday morning 79 years ago, that aircraft from Imperial Japan began the attacks that would kill 2,403 Americans, decimate the Pacific fleet and bring the U.S. into World War II.

In his keynote remarks, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said that "What you see here today is the resolve, despite the pandemic, to pay our respects" to those who served in World War II.

"Nothing will stop us," he said.

Aquilino was nominated last Thursday by President Donald Trump to replace Adm. Phil Davidson as commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, according to an announcement by Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller.

Those veterans "helped to make this a better and safer world in which to live" and today's sailors share their sense of duty, Aquilino said.

"We will stand the watch."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: Remains of 4 Pearl Harbor Sailors ID'd As Nation Marks 79th Anniversary of Attacks

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