Pearl Harbor Day memories live on at New Orleans exhibit

Tue Dec 6, 2011 3:47pm EST
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By Mark Guarino

New Orleans (Reuters) - Robert Templet was walking to breakfast on that Sunday, December 7, when he heard a plane motor surging at his back. He turned and saw the pilot, his goggles atop his head, smiling down at him before a torpedo fell from the plane's belly.

"It happened so fast, we didn't know what was going on," Templet told Reuters.

Stories like Templet's are being documented in "Infamy: December 1941," an exhibit opening on Wednesday, the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Even though 70 years have passed since the attack killed nearly 2,400 American service men and women, the memories are still very much alive for veterans of that day like Templet, 91, of Metarie, a New Orleans suburb.

The exhibit is designed to tell the story of the attacks through personal items of its survivors. A wristwatch -- stopped at 8:04 a.m. -- of a sailor who plunged into the water from the burning USS Oklahoma. Letters home from prisoners of war arrested in Wake Island ("In the evenings I play ball. I am getting three meals a day. I was not wounded," one reads).

Dog tags, uniforms, a casket flag and other artifacts give the viewer a sense of those who suffered that day. Touchscreen kiosks allow museum visitors to access oral histories of veterans such as Templet recounting their firsthand experiences.

"You should be leaving this in a somber mood," said Eric Rivet, a co-curator of the exhibit. "This was not a good thing."

A salute to Pearl Harbor veterans at the museum on Wednesday will launch a two-and-a-half-day international conference featuring military historians in public seminars expected to dissect the raid on Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii, as well as Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.   Continued...

<p>Curator Eric Rivet sorts letters from U.S. prisoners of war at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana December 4, 2011. The museum is launching a new exhibit about Pearl Harbor on December 7, the 70th anniversary of the attack. Behind him is a photo of sailors placing leis on the graves of fallen comrades at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, Hawaii. REUTERS/Lee Celano</p>