PHILADELPHIA -- For Dick Penrod, a 59-year-old Navy veteran who served aboard a destroyer during the Korean War, it was the whole point of coming.
"It's a kind of Memorial Day, and we should remember the guys who never came back," he said yesterday, heading to a chilly seat in an upper level of Veterans Stadium.
It was the first Army-Navy football game for Mr. Penrod, a retired Bell Atlantic Corp. manager from Cape May, N.J. And he came to this boisterous pageant mostly, he said, to stir the embers of his memories of that lazy Sunday afternoon 50 years ago.
He and his father were decorating the Christmas tree in the living room and listening to the radio Dec. 7, 1941, when an announcer broke in with news of the Japanese attack.
Mr. Penrod heard his father swear. " 'Those sons of bitches.' And that was it," the son recalled.
But for many fans packing the stands here -- including thousands of young men and women in gray and blue dress uniforms -- it was simply The Game.
Paratroopers swung out of the sky. Cadets cantered around on four Army mules. Students chanted and jeered at their rivals. Cannons fired. Mock tanks and ships spun around the AstroTurf. Players squatted and sprinted and shoved.
The memories of a long ago and far away war became part of the halftime show. The bands played "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" along with "Taps" and marched in front of a 10-yard-long replica of the modernistic USS Arizona memorial, which groundskeepers touched up with white paint before the kickoff.
"When they play 'Taps,' it gets to me," said Andrew Hooper, 19, a midshipman third class in the University of Pennsylvania's ROTC.
But Mr. Hooper, who was born after his father returned from serving with the Marines in Vietnam, conceded that he had never thought much about Pearl Harbor.
"In history classes and stuff, I've heard Roosevelt knew it was going to happen and let us get into the war to get us out of the Depression," he said. "It seems like a lot of people were running around and getting killed for no reason, if that was the reason."
Krystee Kott, an earnest 19-year-old midshipman at the Naval Academy, said yesterday's anniversary "means a lot to me" and is "a big part of our history."
But the Chicago native had to think hard about that meaning, reflecting that America doesn't seem likely to face a similar military challenge any time soon.
"I don't see something as drastic as Pearl Harbor happening," she said.
Roy Smith of Annapolis, a member of the Naval Academy's class of 1934, watched the game from a luxury sky box, looking every inch the successful alumnus in his blue blazer and turtleneck shirt.
The 78-year-old Mr. Smith remembers the opening hours of the U.S. involvement in World War II with clarity. He was an ensign in Norfolk, Va., listening to a broadcast of New York's Metropolitan Opera when he heard the news.
Though he had just returned from an all-night shift, he put his uniform back on and headed back to the naval yards.
To him, yesterday's anniversary was a fitting day for the Army-Navy football competition and a fitting day to remember that in wartime, graduates of the two service academies fight on the same side.
"It's a reminder of the working partnership between us," he said.
Byron Marshall, a 65-year-old Havertown, Pa., man with a ready smile and a walrus mustache, sat in the upper deck and puffed on a cheap cigar.
Huddling in the chilly breeze, he thought about how often America has been at war since he was a teen-ager.
"Sometimes it was a good notion, and sometimes it was bad judgment to be at a place at the wrong time," he said.
Back in one of the sky boxes, Capt. Bill Busik, head of the Naval Academy's alumni association, said the world looks pretty good to him overall a half-century after the United States entered the war that reshaped it.
"The country went from almost an isolationist country to the leader of the whole world, and that's where we are today," he said.
Midshipman Kott, of the academy's class of 1995, agreed. Asked whether the United States is better at waging war or competing in peace, she replied, "I just think we're better all-around."