Raymond Kursch still trembles when he talks about the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He remembers the priest giving his battery last rites in case they died. He remembers cutting his leg as he dived for cover. And he remembers having to drive over the bodies of dozens of dead soldiers who had lined up for morning drill in an open field just as the Japanese swooped in.
He doesn't know whether he blames President Franklin D. Roosevelt or the base's commanders, but Kursch - a new recruit at the time of the attack - firmly believes someone thought those at Pearl Harbor were expendable and failed to pass on advance warning of the assault 59 years ago today.
"We were at battle stations for two days straight, and then they pulled us back out just before the attack," the 79-year-old Army veteran said recently at his home in Glen Burnie.
"Someone knew, and they had a lot of people killed. If we had been at battle stations, the Japanese would never have had a chance. That's the truth."
No American alive on Dec. 7, 1941 - what Roosevelt called "a date which will live in infamy" - can forget the horror of that attack, which killed 2,403, wounded 1,178 others and propelled the United States into World War II.
Across the country - and across generations - the words "Pearl Harbor" and images of the battleship USS Arizona's battered hull retain their power to shock more than a half-century later.
But almost from the beginning, Pearl Harbor memories have been sullied by conspiracy theories. Congress held hearings on the matter in 1946, resolving that no warning of a Pearl Harbor attack existed. Yet the theories persist and are widespread among the group most devastated by the attack: its survivors.
The fervor has escalated to such emotional levels in the past two years at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii that the park service has required rangers to undergo training to address the dozens of accusations they hear each day. And just a few months ago, the park service decided to delay plans to build a new display on the subject.
"Most of the Pearl Harbor survivors believe in the theories of conspiracy," said Daniel Martinez, a historian with the National Park Service at the USS Arizona Memorial. "They blame FDR. The majority of them feel they were sacrificed, even in the term they use, `Pearl Harbor survivors.'
"Americans are very much unwilling to accept defeat," he said. "We would much rather believe in anything else."
For decades, suspicion has centered on FDR and a belief that he knew of and allowed the impending Japanese attack, hoping to establish support for a war he badly wished to enter.
But those suspicions have tainted others as well, most notably cryptologists working for the predecessor to the National Security Agency (NSA) who decoded much of the Japanese intelligence from that era. The last of that group of cryptologists died little over a year ago.
The agency's historian, David A. Hatch, said the group waited 50 years to be able to tell survivors that no warning message came across the wires - only to find that when the decoded cable traffic was declassified in the mid-1990s, few people outside the historical community believed them. Many still don't.
"The conspiracy theories' persistence continues to impress me," Hatch said. "It is just incredibly hard for people to believe that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise; it was such a traumatic event in our nation's history. ... But sometimes when you know the end of a story, it's hard to go back and see the beginning."
Hatch said it is difficult for people to remember what it was like before today's multibillion-dollar intelligence agency, or even prior to the massive code breaking effort launched in 1942 against the Japanese and Germans.
At the time of the attack, cryptology was still new and not wholly trusted. Most officials accepted even the general warnings of an attack as rumor and believed the greatest threat was to the Philippines, not Hawaii.
As part of a promise to those World War II-era cryptologists, NSA officials have tried over the past five years to set the record straight by declassifying all Pearl Harbor-related documents.
Many of those records appear to bolster the idea that nothing other than early, ambiguous warning signs were available in the days leading up to the attack.
For their part, conspiracists find it suspicious that the nation's aircraft carriers - the most valuable of the Pacific fleet - were not in the harbor at the time of the attack. They also point to radar operators who detected the Japanese fleet out at sea and, more conspicuously, the knowledge that the Allies had broken Japanese codes.
But hundreds of pages of security agency and congressional documents show that the aircraft carriers and their escorts had been delayed by a storm over the Pacific Ocean.
And while the Japanese were, in fact, detected by radar, the operator, Lt. Kermit Tyler, believed them to be a flight of B-17s due in from the mainland.