Pillars of Honor Brings War Memorial to WW2 Veterans

More than thirty World War 2 veterans were the heroes at a Pillars of Honor program hosted by Elgin’s Gail Borden Library. Family, friends and community members gathered to show respect for these local men and women, former Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Frances Mai-Ling, an alternative-classical pianist, set the mood performing original compositions.

The packed room enjoyed period songs before a mixed branch color guard presented the colors. Guest speaker Lt. Kevin Milligan, US Navy, thanked the vets for their service and shared stories from his four tours overseas.

Pillars of Honor

Vets and families viewing a model of the Washington, DC WW2 Memorial

On display was a scale model of the World War 2 Memorial on the mall in Washington DC. This is the original model Senator Bob Dole presented to Congress to gain approval for the memorial. Many of these veterans are unable to travel to the memorial and the Pillars of Honor program brings the memorial to them.

Dessee Dye

Retired Army veteran Jessee Dye. His son shows photo of his Dad as a WW2 medic

We met Retired Army medic and author Jessee Dye. His son showed us a photo of his Dad back when he was a medic in Europe.

To date, fifteen Pillars of Honor programs have shown appreciation for our vets with plans to continue at least one a month. Follow Pillars of Honor on Facebook for details on upcoming programs.

70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Attack

In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor Hawaii. Before the day was over, the Unites States lost airplanes, battleship and many lives in this surprise attack.

This week, we remember the 70th anniversary of this World War II milestone with events at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The brand new visitor center was opened on Pearl Harbor day of 2010 as part of the final reunion of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Members of this group are in their 90’s and many find it hard to travel long distances to these gatherings.

We are fortunate to have met several of these heroes and are touched by  their stories.

A visit Ford Island and Pearl Harbor is moving. Sites include the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Oklahoma Memorial, USS Bowfin, USS Missouri and Pacific Aviation Museum. Nearby Punchbowl National Cemetery is nestled in a volcanic crater and narrates the war time timeline through mosaics.

In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, we share stories of service men who were at Pearl Harbor during the bombings and we were fortunate to meet these Pearl Harbor survivors. The personal stories they tell are much more powerful than reading history in books. These gentlemen in their 80s and 90s have plenty of spunk and courage. Read their stories, see picture and watch video of our heroes. Click on the links below to hear their testimonials.

Arizona Memorail in Pearl Harbor Honolulu Hawaii

Final Hawaii Reunion for Pearl Harbor Survivors William Temple

On December 7, 1941 William “Bill” Temple was a 20 year old in the U.S. Air Force working in Pearl Harbor when he was surprised by the Japanese attacks. This week he returns to Hawaii for the first time since he left in 1945. Bill is here for the final Hawaii reunion of members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

Membership in the organization, chartered by congress, is open to those who were on active duty in Pearl Harbor during the World War II attack. His youngest daughter Joan joined him on this visit. Bill decided to make the trip this year as it was important to him to attend this last reunion of the Pearl Harbor Survivors in Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor Survivor William Bill Temple at Wheeler Field Honolulu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor Survivor William Bill Temple at Wheeler Field Honolulu, Hawaii/ Photo credit Joan

One of the sights he looks forward to visiting on the trip is his old barracks at Wheeler Air Force Base. He was also stationed at Kualoa. Bill says, back in those days, he would walk out to Chinaman’s Hat.

Bill’s mind is sharp as ever and he keeps up with news and politics.

“The idiots in Washington better get God back into the country or they can kiss it goodbye. Republicans or Democrats – if they don’t have God in what they do, they are wasting their time.” he said.

Bill lived in Virginia Beach his whole life. He was not impressed with his first visit to Waikiki Beach.

“When I got there, the first thing I said was “I left Virginia Beach for this?””

I think he warmed up the the island of Oahu during his stay. When Bill was stationed in Hawaii, he took up surfing and body boarding and was pretty good at it. Not surprising as his teacher was Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku.

After his tour In the service, Bill returned to Virgina Beach, married and raised a family. His diverse career included gas station owner, carpenter, electrical engineer and hospital employee. At 91 years young, he is state chairman of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and the group’s chaplin.

A deeply religious man, Bill credits his long life and good health to God. At 91 years young, he lives alone, still drives, has 20/20 vision and is in generally good health. Besides his work with the Virginia state Pearl Harbor Survivor Association, Bill is active with his church and local army base.

Bill and Joan have nearly a week of organized activities planned for the attending Pearl Harbor Survivors including a boat ride around Pearl Harbor. This will be an emotional time for these veterans. The Pearl Harbor Survivors are getting a hero’s welcome. Joan showed me their schedule for the visit and there is not much free time. Tomorrow they look forward to renting a car and doing some sight-seeing. Bill looks forward to seeing the Pali again. Hawaii has changed in the 60+ years since Bill last saw her. I am interested to know what he thinks of things today.

Joan says her father keeps her on her toes.

“He calls my voice mail every morning to see if I have updated it to the correct date. Sometimes he catches me,” she smiled.

Bill’s only complaint is when he has nothing to keep him busy. He is active on the computer and emails often. He works with local Indians and learned their native crafts. Bill fashions jewelry, spears and other objects. The spear pendant he is was wearing is one of his works.

Bill keeps such and active schedule, it would be hard for someone half his age to keep up. Approaching his 92 birthday, Bill’s daughter says,

“He will live to be 100 years old. You just watch!”

This is a challenge I look forward to. Welcome back, Bill.

I am very grateful to have met several Pearl Harbor survivors on my travels to Hawaii. Many of these soldiers toured the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center last year for the final Pearl Harbor Survivors reunion. As they reach their 90’s it is harder for them to travel, especially long distances. Here are the stories of four other Pearl Harbor survivors.

Pearl Harbor Survivor Stan Reynolds at Last Reunion

We met Pearl Harbor Survivors Association member Stan Reynolds at Duke’s Lagoon in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii. He returned to Hawaii with his daughter for the final Hawaii reunion of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association (PHSA). I asked Stan about the plans to disband the PHSA group.

“We have to. We don’t want to but we have to. There are only 3,000 of us left and we are dropping dead. Two or three a day. It just can’t go on,” he said.

Pearl Harbor survivor Stan Reynolds first came to Hawaii in 1938. He worked in a mine forest, which he described as area infested with land mines. He spoke about his role in a calm manner, though this sounds to me like dangerous work.

For 10 years, Stan was a tug boat pilot for the Navy. He was in Pearl Harbor on that fateful morning of December 7, 1941 when bombs showered Pearl Harbor.

We met with Stan just after he returned from a preview visit to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which officially opened December 7, 2010.

“One thing really bothered me though. I donated a small hand-made mini shell to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center but I could not find it on display. Several other guys said the same thing.” Stan continued, “Some guys donate their entire collection to the center when they die.”

Stan said additional museums are scheduled to open later in the week and the item he donated may be on display in one of these areas.

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Member Stan Reynolds visits Hawaii

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Member Stan Reynolds visits Hawaii

Stan retired after 41 years in the merchant service. He said it was a “good life.”

To Stan, our veterans and those currently serving our country, thank you for your service.

I am very grateful to have met several Pearl Harbor survivors on my travels to Hawaii. Many of these soldiers toured the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center last year for the final Pearl Harbor Survivors reunion. As they reach their 90’s it is harder for them to travel, especially long distances. Here are the stories of four other Pearl Harbor survivors.

Pearl Harbor Survivor Robert Ruffato Returns to Hawaii

Reverend Robert Ruffato, survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack, returned to Hawaii for the final Hawaii reunion of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. The event coincides with the opening of the new Pearl Harbor Visitors Center. As an 18 year old Navy seaman, he was on the USS Utah when the Japanese began bombing Pearl Harbor.

Robert Ruffato is joined by his daughter Bobbie Jean for his third Pearl Harbor Survivors reunion in Hawaii. We talked with them at Duke’s Lagoon in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii.

The audio on this video is poor due to high winds so we transcribed the conversation below. We recommend you read the transcription below before you watch the video.

Robert Ruffato Pearl Harbor Survivor

Reverend Robert Ruffato Member of Pearl Harbor Survivors Association with his daughter in Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii for the last Pearl Harbor Reunion

Robert Ruffato: “Now we train to go in and do at least three laps and also jump off of a platform with our life jackets on. But we had none of that (swimming) training. I just happened to be from California so I knew how to swim.”

Bobbie Jean: “He helped a buddy of his that could not swim go down into the water every time the Japanese were shooting down at them. He would say, “Hold your breath.” And he would pull him down with him.”

Robert: “See, after they dropped their bombs, they went around machine gunning everybody in the water and still aboard the ships until they ran out of ammunition. Then they went back to their ship. So we lost three eighteen year old kids who could not swim fifty yards that got killed.”

April M. Williams: “It was horrible to start with, but if you could have swum, you could have gotten yourself out of the water.”

Robert: “But we saved quite a few of them because after we finally swam over to a motor launch that was tied up at one of the little docks near where the ship was tied up to. We were going to get in this motor launch and pick up these survivors but I took the canvas off the motor and it was in the shed being repaired. All we could do was throw out about 12-14 life jackets to the kids in the water.”

“You want to talk about panic. You know what the old style life jackets are? Navy life jackets? They are real heavy. You couldn’t tear them apart but they tore them apart (fighting over them). Just panic, you know. It was just terrible.”

April: “What is the most memorable thing so far and about being back here?”

Robert: “Visiting the Utah mostly. We are doing that tonight. This evening. They have a sunset ceremony over there. Well it is just being back, it is such a beautiful place and everything. Mostly being with all my Pearl Harbor surviving friends you know. We were all here that day. Different ships, different places.”

“The part that really bothered me, of course, I’m an 18 year old kid and I had never seen a dead person before in my life. Also, I am surrounded by them you know. So we went toward this building which is not too far from the Utah. I was going to change into some khakis as we were covered in oil and sand. We were just wearing shorts and t-shirts”

“The chief said, “All you sailors that are not wounded, come out here, we are going to give you a thirty-aught-six and you are going to go out and shoot these airplanes as they go by.””

“Shoom! There is an airplane going by, I am standing there shooting at this airplane with a thirty-aught-six. Finally, the chief said, “I need a volunteer to take a pickup truck and go down to the other end of Ford Island where the dispensary is.”

It made a lot more sense to me than shooting at these airplanes. Even at 18 years that made more sense. But that almost cost me my life ‘cause coming across the airfield on the road that went down to the dispensary, these two airplanes came in. See, now some of these Japanese airplanes they had stationary (landing) gear. They don’t fold up. I saw the landing gear down and I figured they were one of our airplanes coming in. Then I looked at them and wondered why they were turning their lights on. But they were not turning their lights on; they were firing their machine guns. “

“All of a sudden, my truck started vibrating. I looked in the back window and the fire extinguisher was doing a dance while the bullets were hitting it. By the time I got to the end of the runway, the whole rear end of the truck was blown away. Not only that, in that truck the gas tank is right under your seat. So if they had hit that gas tank, goodbye!”

“The thing that really bothered me, when I went to pick up the medical supplies, the fellow says, “You are going to have to wait a minute, because we are packing up as many as we can as fast as we can. Go in the dispensary, maybe you can help the nurses out.””

“So I did and she says, “Here is a pack of cigarettes, go round and give cigarettes to the wounded.””

“I went to this one bed and this young guy about 18 year old kid with a sheet over him. Have you seen this Shroud of Turin, which is supposed to be the outline of Jesus? Well his body was outlined by the blood oozing out of his body. He was trying to tell me something. Evidently, he had been in a flash fire. All the hair was burned off of his head. The eyeballs, whites of his eyes, were actually red. He was trying to tell me something. So I leaned down to him, he said two words, “Why?” and “How?””

“Then he died. That was a bad part.”

“Then the second day, they put me and my friend on a burial party. It wasn’t really a burial party, it was a body recovery party. See all the bodies blown off the ships and everything. ‘Cause they have been in the water, first they sink. Then they come up 8 or 10 hours later. And my job was to get down and get as many (bodies) as I could get. They gave me they these little red things that looked like tongue depressors with a wire on them. They put a number on a box and a number of this wire and I was supposed to tie it on the toe.“

“The part that really bothered me, they did not have any coffins. Just big boxes, just to put them in. This one box had written in red paint. Why they wrote it in red paint, I don’t know. Maybe it was the only paint they had.”BODY PARTS ONLY”. If you got an arm or leg or something like that, you put it in that box. “

“That went on for about 4 hours. You grew up in a hurry that day. You were no longer a kid after that. Like they say, uh, boys became men. And men became a little older.”

April: “You were 18 then? How long did you serve?”

Robert: “Served 6 years in the Navy. If your ship was sunk or damaged where it couldn’t be repaired, you just went on other ships. We were going on the destroyer Jarvis, then the Warrant Officer of the Utah asked us where we were going. So we’re going to board the Jarvis. He said “No. Walk down to these docks down here and you will see a bunch of cruisers, and you pick out the ones with the most guns.” He said, “That’s what you do.””

“Of course the Utah did not have any guns. It was an anti aircraft training and target ship. We go out with the fleet and drop these 500-pound bombs. Water bombs and sand bombs and the ship had all these guns. Sixteen or eighteen inch guns. Eight five inch guns. All kinds of anti aircraft guns. Boy, that was for us. Why, anyone could just walk up and ask permission to come aboard. Tell the OD who we were and he says, “Come on.””

“And that was it. I spent three years on her. Like everybody else on the ship, on the ships. A lot of cruiser ships in Pearl Harbor that did not get damaged later where sunk in the battle of Guadalcanal. That was all we had to fight with, destroyers and cruisers. All the battleships were sunk. The Japanese had battleships, so we were actually fighting battleships with just cruisers. It cost a lot of ships around Guadalcanal.”

“Guadalcanal. We were building an airbase, airfield. Well, we would like to have it but we did not want them to have it. Because all the convoys going to Australia where within 100 miles of that airbase. Cause if they got that airbase built they could put their land-based bombers on it and sink every one of our convoys going to Australia, no problem. So, that’s it basically. So that’s my story.”

I am very grateful to have met several Pearl Harbor survivors on my travels to Hawaii. Many of these soldiers toured the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center last year for the final Pearl Harbor Survivors reunion. As they reach their 90’s it is harder for them to travel, especially long distances. Here are the stories of other Pearl Harbor survivors.

World War Two Pearl Harbor Survivor Herbert Weatherwax

We are enjoying our visit to Honolulu on the always beautiful island of Oahu in Hawaii. Yesterday we visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial and met a 92 year old Pearl Harbor survivor of the day which has lived in infamy, Dec. 7, 1941. Herb Weatherwax was born in Oahu and was at Pearl Harbor during the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Herb later served in the Battle of the Bulge before fighting in Germany.

Raised in Hawaii, Herb found the Midwest winters too cold and returned to the Hawaiian Islands after World War II. Herb can be found volunteering at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center three days a week. He enjoys meeting with and signing autographs for the thousands of visitors he meets each year.

Click on the image below to view this episode of “Where Are You Today?” Turn up your speakers and listen as Herbert Weatherwax introduces himself to you. Enjoy this history moment of history.

I am very grateful to have met several Pearl Harbor survivors on my travels to Hawaii. Many of these soldiers toured the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center last year for the final Pearl Harbor Survivors reunion. As they reach their 90’s it is harder for them to travel, especially long distances. Here are the stories of other Pearl Harbor survivors.

%d bloggers like this: