PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- The first thing Lt. Patrick Zuchelli notices is the silence out on the water of Pearl Harbor. It's the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks and he's waiting patiently for the boat that will take him and about 300 others to the USS Arizona Memorial for a special interment service.
"It's hard to imagine that 75 years ago - at this very moment - this harbor was a scene of great horror and chaos," Zuchelli says. "It's overwhelming and awe-inspiring to think that those men took such a heavy blow on that day, but they never stopped fighting ... never stopped trying to save the ship. Every story you hear about Dec. 7, they'll tell you that those men never quit."
As the boat aligns itself alongside the pier, Zuchelli talks of how the men of Pearl Harbor's sacrifice will never be in vain.
"This is our naval legacy and history here in this harbor," says Zuchelli. "It's beautiful to be here paying an honor to these veterans; it's something I can take back home and tell my junior Sailors about. I hope it instills in them the same sense of honor and selflessness the men of the Pearl Harbor attacks put forth in their efforts 75 years ago.
Today's interment service comes with distinction not just for being held on the 75th anniversary of the attacks, but also because it will see not one, but two USS Arizona survivors, both returning to the command they served aboard on that day more than seven decades ago.
Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class John Anderson was only 24 years old on the day of the Pearl Harbor attacks. He had requested a transfer to the Arizona only a short time earlier to be with his brother Jake who was serving onboard. He would never see his brother again after the evening of Dec. 6.
Seaman 1st Class Clarendon "Clare" Hetrick had been onboard just under a year on the morning of the attacks. He would later serve onboard USS Saratoga and USS Lexington during World War II.
Both men were among the few to walk away from the Arizona that day. Today, after 75 years, they were coming home to be with their shipmates once more.
"No other grave site is as sacred in the United States Navy as that of the USS Arizona," says Rear Adm. John Fuller, commander, Navy Region Hawaii, and commander, Naval Surface Group, Middle Pacific. "Today we're honoring these two Pearl Harbor survivors who went on to live full and meaningful lives, despite having to carry the heavy burden of that day throughout their life's journey. Their efforts on Dec. 7, helped create a nation that is dedicated to order, justice, civility and peace."
For the families of these survivors, it was the closure that John and Clarendon had been seeking their entire lives, to return to the scene of that infamous day and be with their shipmates once again.
"This was something Clare had wanted his entire life," says Darla Hetrick, of Turlock, California, and the wife of Ben Hetrick, Clarendon's oldest son. "He's home now; that's the only way to describe this. He's finally home."
Ben, fighting tears, turns to the waters along the starboard side of where the Arizona now rests, and smiles.
"Those men my father served with really were the greatest generation," he says. "And I see how that's rubbed off on today's military, which I'm so proud of. They're keeping alive the honor and the sacrifice the men of the USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor fought and died for, and I know my father is as proud as I am for that."
As the Navy dive team receives the urns containing the ashes of John and Clarendon and ferry them out to the well of the memorial's barbette number four, a peaceful silence much like the kind Zuchelli spoke of earlier settles over the spectators. The divers hold the urns up with dignified respect as the sun settles on this historic anniversary. The Anderson and Hetrick families say their last goodbyes, and the urns dip below the surface of the water.
For the first time in 75 years, John and Clarendon are rejoining their brothers on USS Arizona, and once again assuming the watch aboard this most honorable of Navy ships.
"What a tremendous honor that was," says Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Simic, of Englewood, Florida, the Navy diver who took John's urn down to the well. "To be a part of John's life, in some small way, for everything he went through for this country, is a truly humbling experience. When we carry on these traditions, it gives us a look into the past, of where we came from, and reminds us that no matter how bad it can get, we should never forget how we got here."