Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Marked by Veterans

Battleship Row, as seen by Japanese pilot during the attack.

Battleship Row, as seen by Japanese pilot during the attack.

Two of the nation’s oldest veterans – who fought in the Pacific 70 years ago – were among those in attendance at Pearl Harbor  to mark the Japanese attack  Dec. 7, 1941.

Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane III writes:

It’s a heartwarming photo op, but also a sign of the nation’s fading ties to the Greatest Generation and a warning to the Sept. 11 generation that the mantra of “never forget” grows more difficult as the years pass.

The veterans — Richard Overton and Elmer Hill — weren’t at the attack in Hawaii, but passed through the ruined Navy base later on their way to the fight. They survived kamikaze planes and sluggish, island-clearing combat to return home and build new lives in separate parts of Texas.

An aerial view during the Pearl Harbor attack.

An aerial view during the Pearl Harbor attack.

President Barack Obama signed a proclamation for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day which reads in part:
In remembrance of Pearl Harbor and to defend our Nation against future attacks, scores of young Americans enlisted in the United States military. In battle after battle, our troops fought with courage and honor. They took the Pacific theater island by island, and eventually swept through Europe, liberating nations as they progressed. Because of their extraordinary valor, America emerged from this test as we always do — stronger than ever before.

We also celebrate those who served and sacrificed on the home front — from families who grew Victory Gardens or donated to the war effort to women who joined the assembly line alongside workers of every background and realized their own power to build a brighter world. Together, our Greatest Generation overcame the Great Depression, and built the largest middle class and strongest economy in history.

You can read the full proclamation here.

Florida Inducts Six Veterans into New Hall of Fame

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

The late, former Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He parachuted into Europe on D-Day and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day,’” Gibbons wrote in his World War II memoir I Was There.

Gibbons passed away peacefully in his sleep last year at age 92.

This week, Gibbons was posthumously inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. His son was there to accept the honor bestowed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In all, six Floridians were welcomed into the first class of the new Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. They were given Hall of Fame Medals and Certificates.

1.            John R. D. Cleland, Major General (Retired), U.S. Army (Melbourne)

2.            The late US Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, former U.S. Army Major (Tampa) – represented by his son, Clifford Sam Gibbons

3.            John L. Haynes, Major (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Monticello)

4.            Robert F. Milligan, Lieutenant General (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Tallahassee)

5.            Jeanne Grushinski Rubin, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Sunrise)

6.            Robert J. Silah, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Tampa)

The Veterans Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the state of Florida after their military service.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Researchers Work to Prevent Neglect Felt by Past Veterans

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

An estimated 2.3 million men and women have served during the nation’s 12 years of war. And as they transition out of the military, the veterans will need care for immediate and long-term conditions like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

And many from health care professionals to retired military are concerned that the neglect of past veterans is not repeated with this new generation.

Troops in WWII came home in 1945 and went right back to work and college. There was no re-integration, no recognition of post-traumatic stress. So many WWII vets had to find their own ways to cope with the trauma of war.

“I never saw my father go to bed – in my entire life – sober. I never saw him go to work drunk,” said retired Lt. Gen. Martin Steele. “I always saw this tortured man with the self-discipline and commitment and resolve to live life one day at a time.”

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

Alcohol was how Steele’s step-father, a WWII veteran, dealt with his trauma of having his fighter plane shot down, spending a year in a Prisoner of War camp and being tortured by the Germans.

His step-father’s story of survival transfixed Steele who joined the Marines at age 18 and served two tours in Vietnam.

“Many of my generation in Vietnam struggle every day. They’re not coming out,” said Steele, who retired as a three-star Marine Corps general.

Yet only recently, did two of his closest buddies from Vietnam confided to him that they suffered from post-traumatic stress. Steel said they told him in the hope that current PTSD research could possibly help them.

Steele now serves as associate vice president for Veterans Research at USF – home to several veterans health initiatives for treatment of Military PTSD. One example is Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). Dr. Kevin Kip, head of research for the College of Nursing, runs the ART program.

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

“We do have a new study starting up for post-traumatic stress disorder many of whom the veterans will be treated at the C.W. Bill Young Building on campus,” Kip said.

The goal of academia is to apply the research as quickly as possible according to Interim Vice President of USF Health Dr. Donna Petersen.

“We simply can’t wait for the usual trickle down of our scientific papers and years later becoming accepted practice,” Petersen told a gathering at USF’s national conference on veterans health.

But research is just the first step in caring for the new generation of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.

“This population that we now have who have served in this 12 years of protracted war that we have to have a net for them,” Steele said. “Yes, they have to take care of themselves but we have to have a net for them to be able to welcome them with open arms and provide all the resources this nation can bring to bear to ensure that they have a quality of life.”

And Steele added that caring for today’s veterans will help mitigate the lack of services provided to veterans of WWII and his generation from the Vietnam War.

You can hear the radio version of this story at WUSF News.org.

World War II Veterans to Visit Closed Memorials

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Courtesy the National Parks.

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Courtesy the National Parks.

One of the iconic moments of the federal government shutdown took place at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. last week. National park security staff stood by as veterans from an Honor Flight – some in wheelchairs – pushed pass barricades to the closed monument.

That incident has not sway veterans from West Central Florida to delay their Honor Flight visit scheduled Tuesday.

Instead, Barbara Howard, a board member for the West Central Florida Honor Flight, said she and others contacted members of congress.

“It is their right to see their memorials,” Howard said. “So, I felt very very sad that there was this unintended consequence, the memorials being shut dow,n but I’m really happy they’ve made arrangements now that WWII veterans can get in and see them.”

English: Aerial view of the National World War...

English: Aerial view of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Howard received an email from Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor stating that Honor Flight veterans could visit certain memorials under their First Amendment Rights.

“We’ll be able to go into the WWII Memorial. We’ll be able go to the Korean and I think possibly the Vietnam. I don’t know that they’ll be able to go up into the Lincoln Memorial – we’re not sure that those stairs will be open,” Howard said.

Two other West Central Florida Honor Flight are scheduled October 29 from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport and November 12 from the Lakeland Linder Airport.

WWII Veterans Storm D.C. Mounument Defying Shutdown

 Credit Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes National Park Service security personnel speak on their phones after World War II veterans broke through a barricade with police tape that prevented access to the World War II Memorial on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

Credit Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes
National Park Service security personnel speak on their phones after World War II veterans broke through a barricade with police tape that prevented access to the World War II Memorial on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

World War II veterans on an Honor Flight from Mississippi pushed their way through barricades and yellow police tape to visit the Washington D.C. National World War II  Memorial Tuesday, the first day of the federal government shutdown, according to the Stars and Stripes.

Honor Flights from West Central Florida are scheduled to visit the Washington D.C. war memorials next week. The West Central Florida veterans are scheduled to visit October 8 and again on October 29. The one-day flights are sometimes the only chance aging veterans have to visit the memorials built to honor their service.

The Honor Flight trips take months to plan and gather donations so that the WWII veterans don’t have to pay for their trip. That’s one reason for the defiant response from the veterans in their 80s and 90s.

Here’s more from the Stars and Stripes:

Wheelchair-bound elderly veterans pushed aside barricades to tour the World War II Memorial Tuesday morning, in defiance of the government shutdown which closed all of the memorials in the nation’s capital.

The four bus loads of veterans — visiting from Mississippi as part of a once-in-a-lifetime Honor Flight tour — ignored National Park Police instructions not to enter the site as lawmakers and tourists cheered them on.

“We didn’t come this far not to get in,” one veteran proclaimed.

The scene was both emotional and comical at once. After it was clear they had lost control of the situation, Park Police officials stood aside, telling press that they had “asked for guidance on how to respond” to the breach of security.

As 80-something veterans slowly walked around the massive war memorial, Park Police stood quietly to the side, advising other tourists that the site was technically still closed. But they made no moves to stop the wishes of the war heroes.

You can read the full story and view more photographs of the WWII veterans and their escorts on the Stars and Stripes website.

World War II POW to Receive Nine Military Medals

The destroyer, USS Schley (DD 103). Photo credit: navsource.org

The destroyer, USS Schley (DD 103). Photo credit: navsource.org

Imagine fighting in World War II, surviving four years as a Prisoner of War at camps in Japan and China only to have the U.S. Military lose your records.

The Prisoner of War Medal. Photo credit: axpow.org

The Prisoner of War Medal. Photo credit: axpow.org

Lost paperwork is not uncommon in the military especially if those records date back to World War II when everything was typed with carbon copies.

But that is the reason why 94-year-old McPherson Plecker never received the nine medals earned during his Navy service from 1940-1946.

The Navy Fireman First Class served on the destroyer, USS Schley (DD 103) and volunteered to go to Wake Island.

Plecker is now a patient of Suncoast Hospice patient. And like many veterans, he never mentioned his missing service medals. But when his hospice care team learned about his service and the lack of recognition, they contacted the Department of the Navy and worked to rectify the 67-year oversight.

Saturday at 10 a.m. former Congressman Mike Bilirakis will present Plecker with nine service medals including a Purple Heart for his injuries suffered during the battle at Wake Island. He’ll also receive the Prisoner of War Medal and the American Defense Service Medal.

The ceremony is planned at the Plaza at the Palms of Largo, 385 Alternative Keen Road, Largo. which is dedicated to veterans.

Plecker’s story is part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

A Girl Scout Who Does More than Sell Cookies

Jacqueline Parker with her "Veterans Heroes" project that earned her the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor given by the organization.

Jacqueline Parker with her “Veterans Heroes” project that earned her the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor given by the organization.

A love of flying isn’t the only thing that links an 18-year-old Tampa Girl Scout and an Air Force Brigadier General who retired here.

Ben Nelson Jr.’s dad flew B-29s, B-17s and B-24s for the Army Air Corps in World War II. So it’s not surprising that he ended up in the pilot’s seat for the Air Force flying more than 200 combat missions in Vietnam.

“We all got shot up every once in a while,” Nelson said in a recorded interview for the “Veterans Heroes” project. “I’ve got a picture of me standing and a hole in my wing looking up through it. You know sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not.”

Nelson’s luck held for a full and distinguished career in the Air Force. He retired as a brigadier general in September 1994 as deputy commander of NATO’s 5th Allied Tactical Air Force, Vicenza, Italy.

Air Force Brigadier Gen. Ben Nelson Jr. Credit: Dept. of Defense

Air Force Brigadier Gen. Ben Nelson Jr. Credit: Dept. of Defense

Nelson is one of 12 veterans who shared their military stories for Jacqueline Parker’s Girl Scout project “Veterans Heroes” that earned her the highest award given by Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.

The interviews she collected became part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and are also available at the St. Petersburg Museum of History and Girl Scout Leadership Center.

Parker is proof that Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies. The Plant High School senior said scouting gave her the foundation to try things like Junior ROTC where she will serve as the executive officer this school year. She’s also deputy commander of the Civilian Air Patrol at Plant.

“My main goal is to be in the military but also preferably as a pilot,”

It’s an interesting choice because no one in her immediate family is in the military and most of her high school friends aren’t interested in serving.

“My friends respect the fact that I want to do this. I’ll tell them about a camp I went to and they’re like ‘you actually did that?” Parker said.

Jacqueline Parker holds a "dummy" M16 while at the Marine summer leadership camp 2013.

Jacqueline Parker holds a “dummy” M16 while at the Marine summer leadership camp 2013.

This summer,  besides participating in Girls State and a cross country camp, Parker was one of 500 chosen  nationally to attend the Marine Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy held at Quantico.

“We were wearing full Marine uniform. It was as if we were deployed,” she said. “Each squad was 12 people approximately. My group didn’t do so well. We quote-unquote killed our civilians. We had dummy M16s and if you wanted to shoot you go bang, bang, bang.”

She said the course was designed to help the squads learn from unpredictable situations.

“It was very hands on and if you were to do something wrong, you weren’t penalized for it. It was okay here’s how you fix it, now do it right,” Parker said. Whereas in high school, you do something wrong then it just effects your grade and it just tumbles down from there.”

At yet another camp, this one was a week at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., she learned she could tolerate a “boot camp” setting with yelling instructors and tough physical training.

Her love of flying is in full display as Jacqueline Parker enjoys one of her "orientation" flights with the Civil Air Patrol.

Her love of flying is in full display as Jacqueline Parker enjoys one of her “orientation” flights with the Civil Air Patrol.

She survived and even thrived in that environment where she was  treated like a swab, an incoming Coast Guard Academy freshman. It strengthened Parker’s confidence that she belongs in the military.

She applying to the Coast Guard and Air Force academies.

“I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to have a regular college experience if I go to an academy, but because I am giving that up I’m getting something much better,” Parker said.

Her definition of “much better”: “an opportunity to lead others and help this nation be a better place to live.”

You can listen to the WUSF radio story featuring Jacqueline Parker HERE.

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