Last living witness of Japanese surrender in WWII marks Pearl Harbor Day

Last living witness of Japanese surrender in WWII marks Pearl Harbor Day (ABC7)

On the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, military leaders and veterans paused across Washington - and the country - to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor and all the lives lost during World War II.

At the U.S. Navy Memorial, a remembrance event Thursday afternoon featured a special guest: Robert Kaufman. He is the last living American witness of the Japanese surrender ceremony that ended the war.

Sailors, veterans and downtown workers just passing by watched and listened in awe as the 98-year-old described the historic event.

“I was there and I was 24 years old,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman graduated from the Naval Academy in 1940. “I was the next to the youngest in the class,” he said.

He was serving on a ship far from Pearl Harbor - near Iceland - when the Japanese attacked in 1941. The attack killed more than 2,335 military personnel, including 10 of his classmates.

At the end of the war in 1945, he was one of the youngest American officers to witness the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, led by General Douglas MacArthur. Kaufman describes it as more somber than celebratory.

“It was not until a few days or weeks later that I really got to thinking about the very important event in my life,” Kaufman said.

A few blocks away from the Navy Memorial on Thursday, at the World War II Memorial, there was another Pearl Harbor tribute. Organizers of these events note that fewer and fewer vets are able to attend each year as the Greatest Generation slips away.

U.S. Navy Memorial President & CEO Frank Thorp said, “[They guaranteed] our freedom - it's not a cliche. They saved the world for democracy.”

Robert Kaufman now lives in a retirement community in McLean, Virginia, but he's still driving and gets around without a cane or wheelchair.

After the event, the retired Navy captain signed autographs and took lots of photos with Navy leaders who were humbled to hear his story.

“It is important not only for junior sailors but old sailors like me to hear that story and know we're apart of a bigger legacy,” said Rear Admiral Charles Rock, Commandant of Naval District Washington.

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