HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - 81 years ago today, over 2,400 American lives were lost at Pearl Harbor. Today, a special commemoration was held at the State Capitol.

The attack by Japan, which was a major turning point leading to the United States’ involvement in World War II, damaged or destroyed 19 U.S. Navy ships including eight battle ships, like the USS Arizona. 1,177 of the Sailors and Marines onboard the USS Arizona were killed. 

“This is very important that we remember our veterans from World War II, but in particular on December 7th, our veterans who were at Pearl Harbor when they received, and were on the forefront of that unprovoked attack from the Japanese,” said Rear Admiral Peter Stamatopoulos, Commander of Naval Supplies System Command and Chief of Supply Corps “Today is about continuing to remember those who gave their lives and those who, without any warning, through their actions became heroes that day. They didn't plan on going to war with Japan at the time and they woke up that Sunday morning and it changed the course of history,” he added. 

Of the veterans who experienced the attacks, only a handful are still living. One of them is Staff Sergeant Richard Schimmel, who was a 19-year-old radar operator stationed at Pearl Harbor. 

“I'm at a I'm a loss for words. I just appreciate everything they did here and I feel honored,” said Schimmel after today's commemoration inside the State Capitol.

81 years later, the Pennsylvania resident, who was among the first to detect the Japanese aircrafts, says he will always be proud of the sacrifices he made for his country.  

“I'm just glad I did something good for my country. I mean, I always say that if I do something good for my country, I'm happy,” said Schimmel. 

Rear Admiral Stamatopoulos says it’s important to continue the tradition of these annual events so that everyone, especially the next generation, remembers the events that unfolded. With fewer Pearl Harbor survivors each year, Stamatopoulos says it makes commemorations like today’s even more significant. 

“It makes it very important. Every year we lose more of our survivors and so it's really important that when we come out, we show our appreciation for them and we remember them and we pass it along to the next generation, the sacrifices that they made, the honor, the courage, the commitment that they had to their mission, to the nation at that time,” said Rear Admiral Stamatopoulos, emphasizing the need to make sure similar attacks never unfold again. “When we look forward and we look across the Pacific now, we're in a situation where we have some competition that's going on, with some of our adversaries in the Pacific, and we've got to be ready. We can never let this happen to us again,” he added. 

When asked what his message would be to the next generation of Americans, Schimmel said to always remain alert and never forget passed events, like those that took place 81 years ago today. He’s confident about the future of the nation he, and his incredible generation, fought so hard to protect. 

“It’s still my United States,” said Schimmel.