With cheers, tears and a water cannon salute, Hawaii veterans and residents welcomed Pearl Harbor survivors back to Oahu yesterday, 75 years after the surprise Japanese attack on the island.
One of those survivors, retired Navy Capt. Bob Batterson, said it was "one of ... the great days of my life."
He was one of 32 surviving veterans of the attack who traveled on the honor flight from Los Angeles, which also carried 72 other veterans, along with actor and prominent veteran supporter Gary Sinise.
"Wonderful. It was wonderful. I still can't believe it's happened. It's incredible," Batterson said. His wife Hilda added, "I've never seen anything like it."
Greeters included children in traditional dress, along with dozens of uniformed military personnel, who shook hands, clapped and thanked the veterans for their service. The veterans received leis; a ukulele player strummed and sang.
Batterson, who said he was a petty officer third class 75 years ago, recalled being in an enlisted barracks building at the time of the attack. He later commissioned and became a fighter pilot.
Batterson said he previously visited Hawaii a few years ago and wanted to make one more trip to the island, although he wasn't initially planning on going this year. But, he said, he just could not turn down the special invitation extended to him for the 75th anniversary commemoration.
'Honor and Respect'
The deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Army Lt. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, said he has great admiration for the men and women who served.
"What happened here 75 years ago of course changed the nation and the world," he said. "That's why I'm here, to pay honor and respect to those who were here then."
All Americans, he said, should pause and think about what happened Dec. 7, 1941, and thank the men and women who served. The veterans laid the groundwork, he said, "to give me the things that I needed to live in a free country and to become what I wanted to be -- a soldier in the Army."
The governor of Hawaii, David Ige, lauded the courage and bravery of those who served that day.
"I'm here because this is a great opportunity to honor the heroes of the attack on Pearl Harbor," Ige said, noting he and the people of Hawaii are honored to take part in the anniversary events and show appreciation to the veterans.
"We are glad that so many of the survivors and veterans will be able to participate in this 75th commemoration," he said.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Josh Carmack greeted the veterans with fellow naval chiefs, and his wife Tara and their two children. It is important, he said, to honor these veterans.
"They did a lot of work and made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that we have the freedoms that we have today," he said. "We have to support the people who made those sacrifices."
Jeanne Kapela, Miss Hawaii 2015, said she was moved by the survivors' return.
"Every single moment was a tear-jerker moment," she said. "To look in the eyes of someone who survived being at Pearl Harbor and knowing that they're coming back here now as a survivor years later was the most incredible moment probably in my life."