By Malia Mattoch McManus
HONOLULU, Dec 6 (Reuters) - American survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many of them in their 90s, will gather on Saturday near Honolulu to mark the anniversary of the attack in 1941 that took the lives of more than two thousand of their peers and thrust the United States into World War Two.
Some 50 survivors will take part in the 72nd commemoration of Dec. 7, according to Eileen Martinez, Chief of Interpretation for the USS Arizona Memorial.
"They are in their twilight years, so now is the time to honor them and thank them for their service," she said. "This is our most important day at Pearl Harbor."
Civilian witnesses from the island of Oahu as well as World War Two veterans and their families will gather at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to remember the surprise assault by Japanese air and naval forces that claimed roughly 2,400 American lives.
Nearly half of those who perished were sailors aboard the battleship USS Arizona, which Japanese torpedo bombers sank early in the attack, sending 1,177 of its 1,400-member crew to their deaths.
The USS Arizona Memorial, built over the wreckage of the ship, now forms a centerpiece of the World War Two Valor in the Pacific National Monument, an historic site administered by the National Park Service.
As has been the practice in previous years, veterans, relatives and visiting dignitaries will bow their heads for a moment of silence on Wednesday at 7:55 a.m., the time when the attack began.
A guided missile destroyer will render honors to the USS Arizona, and a flyover will take place.
Besides the Americans who perished, 1,178 were wounded. A dozen U.S. warships were sunk or heavily damaged in the attack which also destroyed 323 aircraft, badly crippling the Pacific fleet. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)