Retired Adm. Lloyd R. “Joe” Vasey, the 101-year-old Oahu veteran who inspired a bill to commemorate U.S. service members who fought in the Pacific theater, didn’t live to see his dream realized.
Born on Jan. 31, 1917 in Vallejo, Calif., Vasey died Wednesday at Straub Hospital following a monthlong battle with pneumonia. A public funeral service will be held Friday at 8:30 a.m. at Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Now it will be up to Vasey supporters to keep pushing to add a Pacific War display to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The bill Vasey inspired, which was introduced by U.S. Rep Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), unanimously passed the U.S. House on the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said its Senate companion unanimously passed through a Senate committee Thursday and and can now head to the full Senate.
“Admiral Vasey’s lifetime of service to this county is reflected by his military career in the U.S. Navy, the founding of the Pacific Forum, and his fight to establish a memorial honoring fellow World War II service members. With his passing, I will carry on with his goal to establish a monument recognizing World War II veterans who served in the Pacific Theater,” Hirono pledged Monday.
Hanabusa, who arranged to have a flag flown over the Capitol in Vasey’s honor, said she was deeply saddened to learn of his death.
“After bravely fighting for our country, he dedicated his life to the pursuit of peace. He would often remark that his experiences in the war and the tragic cost of conflict, changed his outlook and life’s mission. Our nation owes Admiral Vasey and all the members of the greatest generation, our gratitude and respect,” Hanabusa said.
Vasey, who survived 21 attacks by the Japanese, one by the French, one by the Germans and three by friendly fire during his World War II years, never forgot his fallen comrades and longed for a place where he and others could pay their respects. He estimated that wartime conditions prevented the retrieval of the bodies of some 150,000 fallen service members who fought in the Pacific theater during World War II.
“I pray every night that this gets done for my buddies that didn’t come home,” Vasey told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in December.
Vasey often got emotional about the memorial, which he felt was long overdue. He had realized his other major goal, to promote world peace, with the 1975 founding of the Pacific Forum, a foreign-policy think tank affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Vasey said a grueling 36-hour battle aboard the USS Gunnel, a submarine commanded by U.S. Sen. John McCain’s father, Adm. John Sidney “Jack” McCain Jr., inspired him to provide “a better way to solve international problems.”
Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday that Vasey, who was his father’s longtime friend, embodied “the very finest qualities of patriotism.”
“Joe was a good man, an officer and a gentleman, and a brave defender of this nation. We will miss him. His memory will be revered by a grateful nation for his constant service to a cause greater than himself,” McCain said.
Vasey survived WWII to reach career highlights such as chief of strategic plans and policies at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters; secretary to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; deputy director of the U.S. National Military Command Center in the Pentagon; and chief of staff for the commander, 7th Fleet.
Ralph Cossa, Pacific Forum president, said Vasey also served as a valuable member of the organization’s board and typically sent him several emails a week.
Vasey was so sharp that just last year he prepared a North Korea strategy to share with President Donald Trump, Cossa said.
“We sent it to the National Security Council and Sen. John McCain,” he said. “We plan on sending it out again this week. We think it’s a better idea than anyone else has come up with.”
The annual Pacific Forum Board of Governor’s Dinner on March 21 will be in Vasey’s honor, Cossa said.
Vasey is survived by daughters Karla Vasey and Kari Vasey, and granddaughter Gracia Grace. He was preceded in death by wife Lilian and daughter Kristine.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Pacific Forum’s Vasey Fellowship, which has provided foreign-policy research scholarships to more than 30 young Asian professionals.