Download the FOX 5 app for Breaking News alerts

4 survivors of Pearl Harbor attack attend USS Midway ceremony

SAN DIEGO - The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor was commemorated Wednesday by around 400 people aboard the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.

At 9:55 a.m., wreaths were tossed off the ship into San Diego Bay to honor veterans and the more than 2,300 servicemen who died that day in 1941. The event also included a reading of names of Pearl Harbor survivors who have died in the past year.

The anniversary is a stark reminder of the passage of time since the attack in light of the dwindling number of survivors. San Diego traditionally had the largest chapter of Pearl Harbor survivors, but the San Diego Union- Tribune reported that just 19 attended a recent meeting.

Four survivors were in attendance on the Midway.

Ray Chavez, a 104-year-old Poway resident, is among a handful of San Diegans who traveled to Hawaii to mark the anniversary. His ship, the minesweeper USS Condor, was the first to spot a periscope from a Japanese midget submarine that tried to find its way into the harbor but was sunk.

By the time Japanese aircraft roared overhead, Chavez -- believed to be the oldest survivor of the raid -- was off-duty and home. He raced back to his post, where he remained for a week.

Also Wednesday, the San Diego Air & Space Museum displayed rare items from the raid, including pieces of all three types of Japanese aircraft shot down that day.

"The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is a seminal day in United States history, and remembering it and the impact it had on our country is an important part of who we are as Americans," said Jim Kidrick, museum president and CEO. "Pearl Harbor served as a catalyst for our entire country -- it united us like never before. We're proud to have these rare items on display."

The items in the exhibit are on loan to the museum from a private collector.

The surprise attack by Japanese aircraft on U.S. Navy and Army facilities in Hawaii launched a divided and unprepared United States into World War II.

Some 20 ships were destroyed or heavily damaged, including eight battleships. However, aircraft carriers based at Pearl Harbor were at sea that morning and escaped damage.

The Japanese victory was also mitigated because valuable oil tanks and dry docks suffered little damage. Five of the battleships were later repaired and returned to service.