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At 70th anniversary, Pearl Harbor survivors' group prepares to disband

Every year, survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor have gathered there to mark the occasion. But this year, the 70th anniversary, will likely be the last such get-together. NBC's George Lewis reports.

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Under calm skies 70 years to the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, about 120 survivors gathered Wednesday to mark the anniversary with ceremonies that began with a moment of silence for the 2,400 Americans who lost their lives.

And towards the end, it came with an announcement that seemed inevitable: The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will disband on Dec. 31.

Association President William Muehleib cited the age and poor health of remaining members.

"It was time. Some of the requirements became a burden," Muehleib said after the ceremony.

The association has 2,700 members but there are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Pearl Harbor survivors. Local chapters will function as long as they have members and survivors can gather socially, but they will no longer have a formal, national group that organizes an annual trip for the anniversary.

The moment of silence came just before 8 a.m., when the first Japanese planes launched their attack. The survivors were joined by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, military leaders and civilians at a ceremony in Pearl Harbor.

"You the survivors, as well as those who were lost, earned with your blood, with your sacrifice, a legacy you have passed on to those who followed," Mabus said.

Altogether 3,000 people attended the event at a site overlooking the sunken USS Arizona and the white memorial that straddles the battleship.

In a statement, President Barack Obama hailed veterans of the bombing and proclaimed Wednesday as "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day."

NBC's Stephanie Stanton reports.

"Their tenacity helped define the Greatest Generation and their valor fortified all who served during World War II. As a nation, we look to December 7, 1941, to draw strength from the example set by these patriots and to honor all who have sacrificed for our freedoms," he said.

Also this week, five ash scattering and interment ceremonies are being held for five survivors whose cremated remains are returning to Pearl Harbor after their deaths.

NBC Video: 2001, 1991, 1981 ceremonies revisited

On Tuesday, an urn containing the ashes of Lee Soucy was placed on his battleship, the USS Utah, which is lying on its side near the place where it sank. The ashes of Vernon Olsen, who was on the Arizona during the attack, will be placed on his ship late Wednesday.

The U.S. lost 12 vessels that day, but the Arizona and the Utah are the only ones still sitting in the harbor. The attack brought the United States into World War II.

The ashes of three other survivors will be scattered in the water in separate ceremonies this week.

PhotoBlog: Images from 70 years ago

USS Utah survivor Gilbert Meyer said he comes back each year to see his shipmates entombed in the battleship which rests not far from where it sank off Ford Island.

Meyer, 88, recalled his ship rolling over after being hit by a torpedo and seeing Japanese planes dropping bombs. When the planes began showing machine gun fire, he knew it was time to move.

"That really got my attention so I got in the water and swam ashore," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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