EAST MEADOW - Saturday marked the 72nd anniversary of one of the darkest days in U.S. history: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Images from the surprise attack have been seared into the memories of many Americans, but of course, they are particularly vivid for the veterans who were serving the nation in Hawaii when the attack happened. World War II veteran Gerald Barbosa, 89, of East Meadow, was a 17-year-old gunner's mate serving aboard the USS Raleigh in Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
Barbosa went up onto the ship's deck moments before what seemed like the end of the world hit, and he recalls the chaos of the attack. "The machine gun bullets from the planes are bouncing off the deck, off the bulkhead," he says. "When the torpedo hit, man, it looked like it lifted the whole ship up and bounced it back in the water."
As Japan targeted the Hawaiian harbor with 350 warplanes and dive-bombers, all Barbosa could think about was saving his ship and destroying the enemy. "All we could do was keep on firing. It seemed like it never stopped," he says.
By the time the strike had ended, 21 U.S. ships were either sunk or damaged, more than 180 U.S. aircraft were destroyed and 2,403 Americans were killed. The "date which will live in infamy," as President Roosevelt famously put it, pushed America into World War II, and Barbosa spent the next three years fighting in Europe.
The Nassau native was present for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, and was wounded by bomb shrapnel. But the emotional scars of war hurt the most. "Some of my good friends all died," Barbosa says.
It's why Barbosa hasn't missed a single Pearl Harbor memoriam flower-drop ceremony since it began 43 years ago. Today, 72 roses, one for each year since the attack, were blessed and flown by a vintage war plane to the Statue of Liberty. At 12:55 p.m., the exact time of the bombing, the roses were dropped from the plane to honor the lives that were lost.