CHAPEL HILL – “A date which will live in infamy” as then President of the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it.

It’s been 72 years since the surprise attack by the Japanese on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

American Legion Post 6 Commander Lee Heavlin said the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars gathered Friday night and took a moment to remember the more  than 2,200 Americans who died during the attack.

“It’s important that we as veterans keep what happened alive,” Heavlin said.

Intended to neutralize the US Pacific Fleet, the attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

World War II veteran Major Everett “Bud” Hampton, who served in the Marine Corp, said that though years have passed, the memory of the moment he found out the news of Pearl Harbor remains clear.

“I was at my girlfriend’s house on Sunday afternoon,” Hampton said. “It took everyone by surprise, not even knowing where Pearl Harbor was.”

Hampton said what happened at Pearl Harbor motivated him to enlist. He participated in four major operations while serving in the Pacific Ocean theater.

The air attack on Pearl Harbor came in two waves of Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes. The first wave targeted “Battleship Row,” on the east side of Ford Island. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, of which four were sunk.

“I’m in awe. I’m in awe. When you think about all the men on these ships—hundreds and hundreds of people,” Heavlin said. “Each ship is literally a small town. To lose that, in massive numbers in the early morning when everyone was sitting back and relaxing for Sunday—it was tough. It was tough.”

Heavlin said the Veterans of Foreign Wars will commemorate the anniversary of Pearl Harbor while participating in several holiday parades this weekend.

He said it is now up to a new generation to remember and honor those who died in the attack.

“From the older generation, we’ve lost a lot of World War II veterans. Some of the children of World War II veterans are now senior citizens themselves,” Heavlin said.

The attack lasted less than two hours but took a heavy toll on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. In addition to the four battleships that were sunk, 188 aircraft were destroyed. For its part, Japan lost 64 men and 29 planes, according to Time Magazine.