Joe Bruni had just emerged from the Strand Theater in Portland when he was confronted on the sidewalk by newsboys hawking papers with headlines announcing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

He doesn’t remember the movie he saw on Dec. 7, 1941, but the rest of the day and the events that unfolded in the months that followed are burned in his memory.

“Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was,” said Bruni, who soon became intimately familiar with the naval base in Hawaii and America’s new enemy: the Japanese.

Today, the 70th anniversary of the surprise attack, is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. In Portland, Bruni will join other veterans in Fort Allen Park for a wreath-laying ceremony to recognize the men and women who died. The ceremony is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

The event was organized by the AmVets Charles J. Loring Jr. Post 25 on Washington Avenue.

“It’s something we don’t want people to forget,” said Bruni, who’s now 87 and lives in Portland. “You can’t forget.”

More than 3,500 Americans died in the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to a proclamation issued by President Obama. Gov. Paul LePage has directed that the U.S. flag and the Maine flag be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset today.

Bruni was drafted immediately after he graduated from Portland High School in 1942. During World War II, he flew 25 bombing missions in the South Pacific with the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Bruni was the top turret gunner on a B-25 bomber. He and his crew focused their attacks on Japanese commercial shipping lanes.

They flew low-altitude missions and never carried parachutes because nearly all of their flights took them over water. They did have an inflatable raft on board.

“I was scared because we never knew if we were going to come back,” Bruni recalled.

Bruni survived those missions and lived to pass on the stories of a war that happened seven decades ago to his family and friends. He has six children.

Bill Knight of Portland is a Vietnam-era veteran. Knight, who served in the Marine Corps, comes from a military family. His father, John Knight, served in the Army during World War II.

John Knight died three years ago at the age of 94.

Bill Knight plans to attend today’s wreath-laying ceremony at Fort Allen Park. After the ceremony, the Charles J. Loring Post will host a reception. Food and music will be provided.

Knight said it is important to remember the Americans who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“It’s like the people who organize Wreaths Across America. It’s a way to teach the younger people that freedom has a price,” Knight said. “The younger generation tends to forget.”

Wreaths Across America is the annual wreath-laying ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rod Anderson, a Vietnam War veteran from Gorham, also plans to honor the lives that were lost at Pearl Harbor by attending the wreath-laying ceremony at Fort Allen Park.

Anderson’s father and three uncles served in World War II.

“They had to leave their families to protect our freedom,” Anderson said. “It’s a day we all need to remember. It makes us think about our fathers and our grandfathers. It should be a day that no one forgets.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]