Two dozen old soldiers who returned this week to Pearl Harbor for the 75th anniversary of the attack, some in wheelchairs, others shaky on their feet, found themselves showered with love and respect as the nation remembered them, those who were killed and those who were wounded.
One of the visiting veterans overwhelmed by Wednesday’s remembrance ceremony was retired Private First Class George Haines.
“There’s just no words to express my feelings and deep appreciation for the people who have poured out in droves to honor us,” he said Wednesday, on the anniversary of the attack.
“As young men, we only did what we thought was the right thing to do to save our Country. It’s overwhelming to see thousands and thousands of people applauding us and shaking our hands.”
Haines shared these thoughts with Bill Reynolds, The Signal director of veteran affairs, who accompanied the 24 Pearl Harbor survivors on their return to Hawaii, 10 of them for the first time since the Second World War.
The trek back to Pearl Harbor for the 24 veterans was made possible by the non-profit group, the Greatest Generations Foundation. It is a nonprofit devoted to honoring America’s veterans, by sending them back to the battlefields on which they fought such as Germany and Italy.
Reynolds, a veteran himself of the Vietnam War, returned to Vietnam in April with three other vets as part of the foundation’s first formal visit to Vietnam.
That journey proved emotional support for him, he said later, primarily, of course, because he fought there and saw his friends die there.
Reynolds was caught by surprise this past week, however, when the trip to Pearl Harbor resonated more deeply with him than he had anticipated.
“This has been one of the most outstanding experiences I have ever had,” Reynolds said. “I love these guys and being around them just reminds me of my dear old dad.
“These great Americans are fiercely patriotic.”
One of those patriots returning to Pearl Harbor was Col. Douglas Dillard of the 82nd Airborne.
“I feel the solid patriotic people tremendously exhibited here in Honolulu has been so reassuring,” he said. “Our country has been divided far too long and I have great hope that our country will come together soon.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time.
Imperial Japanese fighter planes attacked the naval base with bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers.
The planes hit and damaged eight U.S. Navy battleships, sinking four of them.
Killed in the attack were 2,403 Americans, wounded were 1,178 others.
For the 24 who survived and returned to the scene of that destruction, the outpouring of gratitude from everyone they’ve encountered, including school children, has been emotional.
Fireman 2nd Class Will Lehner, one of the visiting Pearl Harbor survivors, said: “I have so much pride having served aboard the USS Ward and having fired the first shot at the Japanese an and 15 minutes before the planes hit Pearl.
“We sunk a Japanese mini submarine at the entrance of the harbor,” he said. “I’m happy that the people and little kids here were clapping, waving flags and applauding us.
“The huge outpouring demonstrates an immense sense of patriotism and appreciation for us Pearl Harbor Survivors.”