Unflinching Portraits of Pearl Harbor Survivors
Seventy years after the day that lives on in infamy, the soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor recall their experiences
- By Megan Gambino
- Photo research by Brendan McCabe
- Smithsonian.com, December 05, 2011
(Marco Garcia / Wonderful Machine)
Just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, sailors stationed at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu were starting to stir—dressing for church, swabbing the deck, or already sunning themselves at local beaches on their day off—when the first of two waves of Japanese fighter planes attacked the base.
At 8:10 a.m., Japanese bombers dropped a 1,760-pound torpedo on the USS Arizona, and within nine minutes the battleship sank with 1,177 men onboard. In just two hours, the death toll from the attack on the harbor climbed to about 2,400, with nearly 1,200 wounded. “A date which will live in infamy,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, before declaring war on Japan and entering the United States in World War II.
Seventy years later, only about 3,000 of the 60,000 military personnel estimated to have been at Pearl Harbor that day survive (including William Temple, above). “We are losing this ‘greatest generation’ faster than we can imagine,” says Marco Garcia, a Honolulu-based photographer who has made it his mission to photograph survivors before it is too late.
Garcia moved from New York City to Hawaii in 2003, and shortly after he began attending the ceremonies held at the USS Arizona Memorial each year on the anniversary of the attack. As a son of a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, the photographer says, “War was just a part of my life, hearing about wars all the time, seeing old war movies.” So when he went to Pearl Harbor and saw survivors, he says, “I thought, ‘Wow, these aren’t these young, fresh actors that were in the movies. These are real people.’”