Flag-waving admirers lined the pavements outside the National World War II Museum in New Orleans to greet the oldest living survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour as he marked his coming 105th birthday.
“It feels great,” Joseph Eskenazi of Redondo Beach, California, said after posing for pictures with his great-grandson, four, his 21-month-old great-granddaughter and six veterans of the Second World War, all in their 90s.
Mr Eskenazi turns 105 on January 30. He had boarded an Amtrak train in California on Friday for the journey to New Orleans. The other veterans, representing the US Army, Navy and Marines, flew in for the event.
They were visiting as part of the Soaring Valour Programme, a project of actor Gary Sinise's charitable foundation dedicated to helping former members of the armed forces and arranging trips to the museum for Second World War veterans and their guardians.
Mr Eskenazi was a private first class when the attack occurred. His memories include being awakened when a bomb fell — but didn't explode — near where he was sleeping at Schofield Barracks, explosions as the battleship USS Arizona was sunk by Japanese bombs, and machinegun fire from enemy planes kicking up dust around him after he had volunteered to drive a bulldozer across a field so it could be used to clear runways.
“I don't even know why — my hand just went up when they asked for volunteers,” he said. “Nobody else raised their hand because they knew that it meant death ... I did it unconsciously.”
He was at the Schofield Barracks when the attack began on December 7, 1941, bringing the US into the war. About 2,400 servicemen were killed.
Mr Eskenazi and the veterans posed for pictures amid exhibits of Second World War aircraft and Higgins boats, designed for beach landings.
“Thank you guys for providing us a country that was worth fighting for,” veteran Billy Hall, who rose to the rank of major in the Marines after enlisting in 1941, shouted to the gathered crowd.
The museum opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum and has since expanded in size and scope.