LINCOLN — Five minutes before the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago that killed 2,400 Americans, Walter Barsell remembers smelling Hawaiian gardenias.
After the attack, the air was thick with the odor of smoke and burning oil.
Everything had been so calm and peaceful, said Barsell, 96, who was stationed on shore the day of the 1941 attack.
Two minutes later, pandemonium was unleashed.
M.J. "Bud" Kennedy, 94, serving on the U.S.S. Regal, remembers the surprise.
"The Japanese just knocked the hell out of us," he said.
Kennedy spent four days at the scene, then his duty changed to underwater sound detection in the harbor. But he ended up "unscathed," he said.
Ed Guthrie, 99, who was stationed on the U.S.S. Whitney, recalled a torpedo bomber passing within feet of his ship.
"And he waved at me. So I waved back," Guthrie said. "A guy said, 'What'd you want to wave back at him for?' Well, by the time he got done waving he passed our ship, so we were safe."
Gov. Pete Ricketts honored the three Pearl Harbor veterans, and another who wasn't there, Don Stratton, who wrote a book about his Pearl Harbor survival. The governor proclaimed Thursday as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Thursday marks the 76th anniversary of that bombing of Pearl Harbor, which thrust the United States into World War II.
"We remember the brave sailors and soldiers who perished, along with the 1,178 wounded, who were among the many survivors," said Nancy Tonkin, president of the Nebraska chapter of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors.
The motto of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is "Never Forget," she said. The motto of the sons and daughters group is "Lest We Forget."
Doug Carlson, 38, a 15-year member of the Nebraska National Guard, came to the Capitol Wednesday when he heard about the proclamation. He had to be a part of honoring the men who were part of that historic time, he said.
"It's such a good reminder of what they did for our country," Carlson said.
At that moment in American history, the people in this country decided what they wanted to be, and it all started with those men and their families who sacrificed so much, he said.
"It's incredibly humbling now to wear the uniform when I know that folks like that wore the uniform first," Carlson said. "It instilled in our military today this heroism, this passion for our country."
Every time those in the military put the uniform on, it is because of that, he said.
"We try to live up to that every day," he said. "I'd do it for free if they'd let me."
Ricketts has asked that all flags in Nebraska fly at half-staff Thursday until sunset in honor of Pearl Harbor Day.