ANNAPOLIS -- Their ranks dwindling, their uniforms retired, some 260 Maryland soldiers and sailors who defended Pearl Harbor against the Japanese received long-due recognition from their country yesterday.
They were awarded a congressional commemorative medal -- noting their service and marking the 50th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack that drew the United States into World War II -- during a special ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.
"I have not forgotten it," said Nat Lieberman, 70, wiping a tear from his eye. "Veterans remember. This [anniversary] is 50 years since the day that will live in infamy. I feel the Japanese tried to kill me. So, of course, I still feel a certain animosity."
Even so, for Mr. Lieberman of Randallstown and many other veterans, the medal meant recognition of service to their country during the surprise attack. Until now, veterans said, the only recognition has come from specially marked licensed plates bearing "Pearl Harbor Survivor."
Recognition has been a long time coming. Members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association began lobbying Congress for a medal in the late 1980s. President Bush signed a resolution authorizing the medal on Oct. 5, 1990.
Medals were awarded to veterans throughout the nation yesterday. The specially designed medals read, "Remember Pearl Harbor" and depict a battleship under attack.
"It's a bit of recognition," said Anthony DiLorenzo, state chairman of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. "But it's more than that. This attention helps us to remind the younger generation not to forget. If we forget the past, we're doomed to repeat it."
The organization is more than a group of veterans. They are men who remain committed to reminding the public, particularly new generations, about the attack. Their motto is "Remember Pearl Harbor -- Keep America Alert."
Mr. DiLorenzo, a 69-year-old retired sailor who lives in Rockville, presents slide shows and lectures about Pearl Harbor at area high schools.
"I want to remind kids," he said.
That message was evoked during the hourlong ceremony.
Capt. Vincent Carroll, a U.S. Navy chaplain, told the audience of about 1,000 that the "gift of freedom demands that we pay full attention" not only to the United States but also to the global community.
During the ceremony, the medals were handed out to surviving veterans and to the families of men who died during the attack or in the years since.
"It's very nostalgic," said Mr. DiLorenzo, who couldn't hold back tears after announcing the first recipient who was killed aboard the USS Arizona.
"These are my buddies here. Being together brings us back to when we were young kids and went to war," he said.
"It means a lot to me to be recognized by Congress," said Clarence J. Davis, president of the Maryland chapter. "I hope it means that we've been recognized by the people, too. And I hope with all this hype that people will remember Dec. 7."