Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"From Tarawa to Tokyo"

On our first full day in Honolulu, I had no idea of the gravity of events that I would have the opportunity to witness. My veteran is Mr. George Beden and our day began at the Kaneohe Marine Base as we toured a P-3 “submarine hunter” aircraft, learning about its components and capabilities, and spending time with the airmen who operated it. It was a blessing to witness the excitement in Mr. Beden; he struck up a conversation with every service man we came in contact with and asked them question after question about their responsibilities and lives. Being a pilot himself, Mr. Beden was able to speak to and learn the technical side of flying the aircraft, which only widened the smile on his face.

Mr. Beden is a man full of energy. At every stop we made, he was the first one off of the van and the first one to wander off. He was always quick to crack a joke and make you smile. As we made our way around the island today, seeing various historical sites, and passing the old beach where Mr. Beden and his friends went swimming, we stopped at the “Punchbowl,” the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. There I saw a different side of Mr. Beden. The cemetery has large wall maps along a corridor depicting each major battle in the Pacific. As we went down the hall, he shared about his experiences on the different islands, some comical and some emotional.

Mr. Beden told stories about being a part of the third wave of attack on the island of Tarawa and how, before the first wave was sent, his ship was called upon to move back and forth along the beach to draw fire. The leader of the fleet wanted to use them to locate the hidden anti-naval artillery that would be revealed upon firing. Story after story illustrated the bravery of these ordinary men placed into extreme situations. The look on his face while sharing about victories and defeats will be etched in my mind and forever remind me of the significance of their actions.

We concluded our day upon the U.S.S. Missouri. The war ended upon these very decks on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay. But as the sun was setting tonight over the waters of where the US phase of WWII began, Pearl Harbor, we honored our five veterans with a special ceremony, where they were each presented with flags flown over the decks of this majestic battleship. It was a special time of remembrance and thankfulness. With humility and great resolve, these men, including Mr. Beden, brought the day to a close by sharing their stories and experiences from before, during, and after the war. The words we heard today and the places I visited alongside Mr. Beden will never be forgotten. I have been profoundly impacted and forever changed by this day and these men.

J. Christopher Yankey

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