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‘Modified’ lockdown sought for WWII event in Hawaii

                                The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) is underway during a regularly scheduled deployment of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), August 1, 2018.


    The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) is underway during a regularly scheduled deployment of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), August 1, 2018.

Planners of the upcoming 75th anniversary of the end of World War II are seeking a “modified quarantine” and travel bubble for World War II veterans, dignitaries, warbird pilots and crew and media arriving in Hawaii from the mainland or other countries.

Meanwhile, over the weekend the big Navy amphibious assault ship USS Essex was being loaded in San Diego with vintage warbirds for what is expected to be a dual-purpose trip to Hawaii for Rim of the Pacific exercises and to deliver planes for several aerial flyovers for the Aug. 29-through-Sept. 2 end-of-war observance.

Tony Vericella, executive director of the 75th World War II Commemoration Committee in Hawaii, said the invited guests would be treated in a similar way to federal critical infrastructure or “essential” employees who normally can bypass some or all aspects of the state’s 14-day quarantine.

“We have to pay attention to all the rules, whether it’s state, city and county and/or the military protocols because, as you may know, they are not all the same,” Vericella said Monday.

“So right now, where we are at is we are getting close” to an agreement while working with the governor’s office, state Health Department and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, he said.

In mid-July, Gov. David Ige said he was keeping in effect the 14-day quarantine for travelers entering Hawaii and delaying the launch of a pre-travel testing program until Sept. 1.

The 75th-anniversary observance, with the theme “Salute Their Service, Honor Their Hope,” is in recognition of veterans and civilians who served and whose actions led to the end of the deadliest war in mankind’s history.

The ceremony is scheduled to have several warbird flyovers and a ceremony on or next to the battleship Missouri, site of Japan’s unconditional surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

COVID-19 still is very much a concern, and some events have been canceled while all have been scaled back, but organizers are forging ahead with the commemoration, saying previously, “That date is that date” for the end of World War II. “It’s not going to change.”

One area where planners have been successful is with a series of planned World War II warbird flights over Oahu. The owners of 19 aircraft around the country had applied to participate.

Even with COVID-19, the hope remained that Navy ships heading to Hawaii for shortened RIMPAC exercises Aug. 17-31 could transport some of the World War II aircraft, officials said earlier this month.

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.

The Commemorative Air Force, with 13,000 members and more than 175 aircraft, on Monday posted to Facebook a video of an FM2 Wildcat, its wings folded, sitting on a pier in San Diego next to the 844-foot aircraft carrier-like Essex, waiting to be craned aboard.

“Over the weekend, the CAF Wildcat got to join a select number of WWII warbirds being loaded aboard the USS Essex for transit across the Pacific to Pearl Harbor,” the group said.

The Commemorative Air Force said in a release that the Wildcat “played a vital role in the Pacific theater during World War II” and that the plane is one of about 19 aircraft slated to participate in commemorative events.

The Stockton Field Aviation Museum in California said it was sending a 1945 Lockheed PV-2D Harpoon on an aircraft carrier.

More than 30 World War II veterans, most in their 90s, plus family members, had earlier committed to travel to Hawaii for the events. Organizers are now circling back to see who will be able to attend.

Vericella said COVID-19 safety is a big concern.

The veterans “are going to be in our care the whole time,” he said. “So we are literally controlling where they go from the time they get picked up to (the time) they leave.”

Vericella gave the example of a film crew coming in to cover the event.

“They come in, and every day they go out to their site to shoot, they go back to their hotel and they are considered essential (workers),” he said. “But they are in modified quarantine because they are allowed to still interface to do their work.”

Similar rules would apply for pilots and maintainers coming out on the Essex with vintage warbirds. “They are not supposed to be doing” extracurricular activities, Vericella said.

“And if we did anything, let’s say for a group of them, and we took the whole group to a particular isolated area and just did something for them and we keep them in their bubble, then that would be OK,” he added. “But they are not off on their own, running around.”

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