This was a short week for me at work as I was bound for the Aloha State of Hawaii to be with The American Legion National Commander Fang Wong (NY) and The American Legion Auxiliary National President Kris Nelson (MN) to represent The American Legion Family during the events surrounding the 70th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
My day started early Tuesday morning with my flight from Orlando to Atlanta and then the long ride from Atlanta to Honolulu. I arrived in Honolulu on Tuesday afternoon and was met by Department Adjutant & SAL NEC Bernard who presented me with a lei and then made sure I got to the hotel safely. Nothing to do the first day, so I grabbed dinner and hit the sack.
December 7th - Very early rise to head down to the USS Arizona Visitor's Center for the ceremonies. I traveled with Bernard for the day. We arrived and I was in awe at what I saw. I have always been fascinated with the history surrounding the attack and I just kept thinking what it was like that day, 70 years ago. The ceremonies were great and nicely done. There were over 120 Pearl Harbor Survivors in attendance which, from what I have heard, is more than in previous years. I was very honored to be there amongst them.
Once the ceremonies were finished, we had an opportunity to visit the visitors center exhibits and there were many and lots of survivors. We then took the launch over to the USS Arizona Memorial so we could view our wreaths and drop a flower from them into the harbor to honor the memory of those 1,177 men who perished aboard the ship. Squadron 291 in California also sent a wreath and I dropped a flower on their behalf also. During our visit to the memorial, there was a brief service conducted by the National Park Service. After the service, Daniel Martinez of the NPS and I spoke briefly and he thanked the Sons of The American Legion for their wreath and said that it means a great deal to many that we take the time to honor those that lost their lives, but also those survivors. I thanked him and told him that is what we do - We honor those who served and those who serve.
From the Arizona Memorial we went to get a quick bite to eat for lunch at Schooner's before heading over to Ford Island. Once on the island we visited the Battleship USS Missouri and were treated to a guided tour. Doc was our tour guide and he did a fantastic job and I learned a lot by listening to him give his presentation. After we finished at the Missouri, we headed to the other side of the island to visit the USS Utah Memorial. A little piece of trivia for you. Did you know that the USS Arizona and the USS Utah are the only 2 ships that remain in Pearl Harbor from the attack? I didn't until this trip. This was the end of the days activities for us. We went back to the hotel for some free time.
December 8 we all got to sleep in for a little while and we departed the hotel about 8:30. Today, I rode with Department Commander Joe McCloskey, Legion National Commander Fang and his wife Barbara. We started off our day at the National Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl Cemetery) where I was honored to place an American Legion Family Wreath with National Commander Fang and National President Kris at the cemetery. Additionally we had The American Legion Band from Post 6 in Holland, Michigan that played during our visit with them. Great band and one of only a few that have been together for over 70 years. We continued our visit to the cemetery by visiting the maps at the top of the stairs and then placed flowers at the Sons of The American Legion monument on the walkway.
From the Punchbowl we had lunch and then drove over to the Honolulu VA and had a tour of the facility and learned about the process that Veterans go through to get their benefits. It was all very interesting. We didn't get to the clinic due to some time constraints and we needed to get back to the hotel to get ready for the banquet.
We arrived at the banquet and met a Pearl Harbor Survivor - CSM Sterling Cale and he presented Commander Fang, President Kris and I with commemorative coins for the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack and an autographed calendar. CSM Cale is 90 years old. I was so moved to have received the gifts from him. This was the highlight of my day.
December 9 was another early morning as we were going to Hickam Air Force Base to observe the Repatriation Ceremony for the arrival of remains from several locations across the globe including Laos, Europe, Canada and Papa New Guinea. When we arrived I had the opportunity to meet several national leaders from the other Veterans Service Organizations and Major General Stephen Tom the Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC). Sons NEC Bernard Lee asked if I wanted to sit or stand. Of course, I wasn't sure what that meant but I saw the formation and chose to stand with them to welcome home our nations fallen dead.
Other than being at the Pearl Harbor Ceremony, this ceremony was the most moving event that I have ever taken place in. I stood with National Commander Fang Wong, National President Kris Nelson and the National Leadership of the other VSOs. I was overcome with emotions as the remains of 6 servicemen were taken off of a C-17 aircraft by an honor guard, made up of servicemen & women from each of the Armed Services, passing by where we stood and placed into a special bus for transportation to JPAC. That was just plain amazing and I was very humbled and honored to be there to represent the Sons with The American Legion Family.
After the ceremony we visited JPAC and met with JPAC Commander, Major General Steven Tom he was very interested in the Sons of The American Legion and we spoke about what we do in support of The American Legion Family. It was a good discussion and we both agree that we need to make sure that our younger generation knows about the services and sacrifices that our men & women in the Armed Services had made to keep our Nation free. I was able to present him with a pin and thanked him on behalf of all of the Sons of The American Legion for his service and what he is doing to make sure that no US Service Personnel are left behind. Once our briefing was completed we took a tour of the facility and it is amazing the amount of work that is done to identify the remains of those brought back or those who are listed as unknowns.
Today was another great day to be the National Commander of the Sons of The American Legion. Words can't express my feelings and emotions for this visit.
I go home tomorrow with one more function and that is the Department of Hawaii Executive Committee Meeting in the morning I was told no necktie, so I will be in traveling attire.
Special Thanks to Bernard, Joe, Andy and The Hawaii American Legion Family for making me feel welcomed and for all of the hospitality. I had a great time and I look forward to being able to return again.