Shivering patriots gathered Saturday beneath a dazzling sky over Charlestown Navy Yard to honor more than 2,400 United States service members and civilians brutally slaughtered in the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
About 50 attended a ceremony inside the USS Constitution Museum, where speakers recalled the dark days surrounding the bombardment that drew the US into World War II.
Historical novelist and Boston native William Martin paid tribute to those killed in the surprise attack, many of them very young men who would never know the joys and struggles of growing into adulthood.
“Those we honor today made history by standing where God put them and doing their duty, even if it was only for a few minutes of terror,” he said.
Martin discussed the impact of then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech declaring Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” describing a nation united in a common cause rather than riven by partisan disagreements.
Roosevelt’s “voice was heard in every village and town in America,” Martin said, “in every place where the muscle and sinew of our national identity tied one community to another, one family to another, one individual to another.”
Seventy-eight years after the Japanese attack, Pearl Harbor made headlines Wednesday when a sailor fatally shot two civilian Defense Department employees and wounded another before turning the gun on himself. In another attack on a US Navy base Friday, a gunman fatally shot three people and injured eight others at Florida’s Naval Air Station Pensacola before being killed by a sheriff’s deputy.
But at the Navy Yard Saturday, the focus was on the heroism of sailors stationed in Honolulu in 1941.
After the indoor tributes, attendees advanced solemnly, led by a color guard bearing the Stars and Stripes and the US Navy flag, from the museum to the end of Pier One, where the USS Cassin Young is moored and about three dozen sailors stood waiting in formation.
There, the Apollo Club of Boston sang the Navy Hymn and the national anthem, the Leatherneck Honors Society performed a rifle salute, and a bugler played “Taps” mournfully as speakers dropped a wreath of red, white, and blue flowers into Boston Harbor.
Chuck Soo Hoo, 81, an Army veteran who was stationed at Colorado’s Fort Carson in the early 1960s, attended the ceremonies with three comrades from the Chinatown American Legion post.
Soo Hoo said post members have been coming to Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies in Boston so long that no one can remember when they started — usually the same core group of four, though it varies a little from year to year.
“A lot of people don’t really have the time to come, so we’re the only ones,” he said.
Soo Hoo said that though he and his comrades joined the military in the decades after World War II, they feel a kinship for the sailors in Pearl Harbor, just as for all US veterans.
“They served like we served,” he said.
Cassin Young II, grandson of the Navy commander whose heroism at Pearl Harbor earned him a Medal of Honor and whose name adorns the destroyer moored at Pier One, read from logs his namesake recorded after the attack and from letters written to his widow after his death in battle at Guadalcanal less than a year later.
“You and yours can be mighty proud of him: a double hero whose name will go down in history books for all time,” said Young, a retired Navy pilot, reading from a letter to his grandmother. “All of us come to the end of our rope someday, and I know of no better way to go there than [his] — with guns blazing in a daring action against our country’s enemies.”