FREDERICKSBURG, Texas, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Former President George Bush told more than 300 survivors of Pearl Harbor on Friday that they provide America with the "endless reservoir of confidence" that will enable the nation to defeat "the first great challenge of the 21st century."
On the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Bush spoke at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. The small town 60 miles northwest of San Antonio is the boyhood home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, who led U.S. naval forces to victory in the Pacific in World War II.
"Here we can reflect on the ordinary faces and familiar names, men and women in what seems like another lifetime, stepped from anonymity to immortality," said Bush, who was a decorated World War II pilot.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was an Air Force pilot in the Vietnam era, told the survivors, "today we stand in the company of heroes."
Referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which have been compared to Pearl Harbor, Perry said, "the present enemies of freedom have chosen a fight with the wrong country."
The Pearl Harbor veterans, in what may be the final mass gathering of survivors of the "Day of Infamy" stood straight and tall in their gray and blue legion caps. Many wore jackets which commemorate their service on board one of the more than 30 U.S. ships which were moored at
Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked.
"We could see the red circles," survivor Bob Veral recalled, remembering spotting the "rising sun" emblems on the sides of the Japanese planes as they bombed and strafed Pearl Harbor. "We knew we had had it."
Survivor Harry Brooks said despite the attack, 1941 was a time of optimism.
"We thought we could whip them in three months," he said, chuckling. "Three months turned into more than three years."
Among those on hand for the ceremony were retired Air Force Gen. Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, who owns a ranch in nearby Bandera County, as well as actor Cliff Robertson, who won an Oscar for portraying Navy lieutenant and future President John F. Kennedy in the World War II film "P.T. 109."
Many of the veterans recalled the surprise Japanese attack and compared it, and America's reaction, to the September terror attack.
"Your courage during the defining hour of the 20th century gives this country the same steadiness of purpose, the same resolution to meet the first great challenge of the 21st century," Bush said.
After the ceremony, modern F-16 jets and vintage World War II aircraft staged flyovers, and the veterans were guests of honor at a "Parade of Heroes" down Fredericksburg's main street.