Next Wednesday, Dec. 7, marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that led to the United States entering World War II.
On Saturday, dozens of survivors of the attack along with other World War II veterans flew to Hawaii. They were greeted by hundreds of supporters as they kick-off an historic week of events.
There were close to 80 veterans on this honor flight and the cheers did not stop until the last person got off the plane.
It was a welcome fit for a hero and rightfully so. One by one, 75 Pearl Harbor survivors and World War II veterans, along with their families, were welcomed with music and cheers at the Honolulu International Airport.
“I feel great, I think this is a great honor and I’m proud to be here,” WWII veteran Art Staymates said.
“It’s hard for me to comprehend that I’m here,” Pearl Harbor survivor Howard Bender said.
Emotions could be felt all over the terminal.
“It was a great flight and everybody was so good to us. It’s unbelievable. I don’t have the words to say what I want to say. It’s just great,” WWII veteran Ken Allred said.
“To be on the airplane with these guys, we had a gentleman who is 100 years old, but the smiles on the faces and the stories these guys tell and the sense of humor. It’s great to be a fly on the wall around these guys, it doesn’t get boring,” said Capt. Jim Palmersheim of American Airlines, whose company donated the veterans’ flight.
U.S. Navy veteran Bender was just 19 years old when the attack happened. He told KHON2 he remembers seeing crew members being rescued from the USS Oklahoma after the attack.
“It was an experience that, if I had to do it again, I would do it, even at my age,” he said.
Bender said he hopes the future generations never underestimate the threats that face our country.
“Remember Pearl Harbor and keep America alert,” he said.
Those who flew with the vets said it was a humbling experience, including actor Gary Sinise, who’s a longtime advocate for military veterans.
“These are our freedom providers and we can’t take that for granted,” he said. “What they did here and all those many years ago, we continue to benefit from that. If they would’ve not been able to win that war, we’d all be living in a very different world.”
“Every single one of them, they don’t think they’re heroes,” said Palmersheim. “They were just doing their job and it’s so humbling.”