Planners of the upcoming 75th anniversary of the end of World War II are optimistically sticking to an ambitious schedule of events Aug. 29 through Sept. 2 in Hawaii — despite ongoing uncertainty with COVID-19 restrictions.
The observance, with the theme “Salute Their Service, Honor Their Hope” in recognition of the veterans and civilians who served and whose actions led to the end of the war, is scheduled to have several warbird flyovers and a ceremony on or next to the battleship Missouri, the site of Japan’s unconditional surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
As of last week, more than 30 World War II veterans plus family members from outside Hawaii had committed to coming to Oahu for the events, said Tony Vericella, executive director of the 75th World War II Commemoration Committee in Hawaii.
Elissa Lines, executive director of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, said in February the owners of 19 aircraft around the country had applied to participate in flyovers.
The aircraft on the list at that time included a B-25 Mitchell bomber, A-26 Invader, SBD Dauntless dive bomber, P-40 Warhawk, TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, P-51 Mustang, F4F Wildcat, C-47 transport, PBY Catalina, F-8 Bearcat and T-6 Texan.
A lot has changed since then with the coronavirus bulldozing through populations around the world, but the possibility remains that U.S. Navy ships heading to Hawaii for shortened Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises Aug. 17-31 could bring with them some of the World War II warbirds, officials said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a Jan. 27 memo that he was seeking a coordinated defense effort for a “lift of opportunity” to get up to 24 privately owned warbirds to Oahu for the events taking place from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2.
“A priority for the Department of Defense is to tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world and to help all generations understand the price of freedom,” Esper said in the memo. “As we approach the 75th anniversary of V-J Day (Victory over Japan) on Sept. 2, 2020, I am encouraging all services to seek opportunities to honor this important milestone.”
Vericella said veteran and other participation from the mainland is premised on the lifting of a 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state arrivals and replacement with a pre-arrival COVID-19 test.
Vericella spoke last week of the events moving forward as scheduled — even as so many others have been postponed due to the coronavirus. He noted that Hawaii “has done a phenomenal job in holding down the spread of COVID here.”
“The thinking really gets down to: Sept. 2, 2020, is the 75th commemoration of the end of World War II,” he said in a phone interview. “That date is that date. It’s not going to change. It is the historic, significant date for the end of World War II.”
Delaying the commemoration would be doing a disservice to the “Greatest Generation” veterans — and if they can’t be in Hawaii, the commemoration can be brought to them via live feeds, Vericella said.
However, a tandem Washington, D.C., event commemorating the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day scheduled for May 8 was postponed due to the coronavirus. More than 100 aircraft were expected to fly in 24 formations over the National Mall and National World War II Memorial. The flyover was rescheduled to Sept. 25.
“We’re definitely going forward with the 75th commemoration pretty much on the same schedule that we originally intended,” Vericella said. “Of course, any and all events that involve people being together are all going to be reduced in size and scope.”
He added that “we’re going to make sure that we follow the state guidelines, the city and county guidelines and Navy Region Hawaii guidelines” for COVID-19 safety.
Some family members have “been very protective and cautious of their family member in terms of traveling here,” he said. “But I would say the vast majority of those that we’ve communicated with outside of Hawaii are absolutely committed (to coming) if they are healthy enough to travel. COVID aside, they are absolutely wanting to do this.”
Southwest Airlines is the exclusive airline sponsor, and veterans and one family member will be flown in and hosted at a local hotel. The commemoration committee also is seeking Hawaii World War II veterans to attend the events.
“We really want the families of World War II veterans throughout the state of Hawaii to communicate with us, and to let us know how to communicate with them so that we can really get more of them to participate,” Vericella said.
Local veteran families may email Jayann@75thwwii commemoration.org or Tony@75thwwiicommem oration.org.
According to the Hawaii group’s website at 75thwwiicommemoration.org/victory-in-the-pacific/hawaii-events, Wheeler Army Airfield, where more than 35 men were killed by attacking planes on Dec. 7, 1941, will be the staging and take-off and landing site for several Legacy of Peace Aerial parades.
A community open house is scheduled at Wheeler from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 29. The first aerial parade around Oahu will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. that same day.
“At this point, we’re still hopeful that we are going to get a number of World War II aircraft here with their owners and pilots and that they can participate in aerial parades as we have kind of laid out,” Vericella said.
He also said that “just like the discussions about World War II veterans coming, if there are 10 World War II veterans there or 100 World War II veterans there, we’re going to be excited. If there are a few planes that can make it, we’re going to be excited.”
A second aerial parade “connecting the bases” of World War II is scheduled from 1 to 2 p.m. Aug. 30.
The film “1st to Fight: Pacific War Marines” will be premiered Aug. 30 at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. The Battleship Missouri Memorial will welcome former crew members on Aug. 31. A commemoration dinner is planned Sept. 1.
The official 75th commemoration of the End of World War II will be held on the deck or adjacent to the Missouri on Sept. 2, with a final aerial parade over the battleship and along the Waikiki coast. More than 800 bombers and other aircraft overflew the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay in an overwhelming show of force.
Also on Sept. 2, a parade is planned with an opening ceremony on Kuroda Field at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki at 5 p.m., with the “Victory Parade” starting at 6 p.m. on Kalakaua Avenue.