Vintage warbirds aboard USS Essex on their way to Hawaii for end-of-WWII anniversary
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 4, 2020
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(Tribune News Service) — Fourteen vintage warbirds, including a polished aluminum 1944 B-25 bomber, are headed to Hawaii courtesy of a U.S. Navy lift on the amphibious assault ship USS Essex for aerial flyovers commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Planners are forging ahead with the Aug. 29 to Sept. 2 celebration in the face of a stubborn coronavirus by scaling back and canceling certain events and taking precautions to minimize contact.
David Prescott from New York sent his B-25 named ”Old Glory” to San Diego to make the trip to Hawaii on the 844-foot Essex, a flattop capable of hosting short-takeoff aircraft including F-35B fighters, helicopters and V-22 Ospreys.
More than 30 World War II veterans are expected to attend.
“It’s important to me. It’s probably one of the last times (some of these veterans) will be able to see this. They are up there in age,” Prescott said of his decision to send his plane.
The B-25 flew at least one wartime bombing mission over Italy, he said in a phone interview.
The Navy veteran also wrangled a deal with Toys for Tots to get 27 or 28 pallets of toys over to Hawaii. One pallet went on Old Glory as it made its way to the West Coast.
“We were only going to be able to bring a pallet or so on the bomber,” Prescott said. “And I asked the Navy, I said, ‘Do you have room for more pallets?’ And the air boss got back to us and said, ‘We should. How many?’ “
Toys for Tots headquarters came up with 26 more pallets of toys to be loaded onto the Essex in San Diego.
Prescott, his family and a handful of crew members are coming to Hawaii for the events — but only one Old Glory team member, and not Prescott, is on the Essex.
“Before you could board the Navy vessel, you had to be in quarantine for 14 days at the Navy Lodge at the San Diego base,” he said.
The 75th World War II Commemoration Committee in Hawaii recently said it was seeking a “modified quarantine” and travel bubble for World War II veterans, dignitaries, warbird pilots and crew and media arriving from the mainland or other countries.
Executive director Tony Vericella 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.
A news conference is planned for Wednesday to clarify some of the planning.
The 75th-anniversary observance, with the theme “Salute Their Service, Honor Their Hope,” was planned 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 the battleship Missouri, site of Japan’s unconditional surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Essex is heading out to Hawaii for an abbreviated Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise Aug. 17 to 31. With the air component of RIMPAC largely canceled, it left more room on the hangar and flight decks for the warbirds.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is expected to attend, 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 for the commemoration.
Five AT-6/SNJ advanced trainers, two PBY Catalina flying boats, the B-25 bomber, an FM-2 Wildcat, an F8F Bearcat, a P-51 Mustang, a Stearman biplane, a TBM Avenger and a T-28 Trojan are among aircraft expected to participate in the flyovers.
Taigh Ramey, making the trip over to Hawaii on the Essex, posted to Facebook photos of the warbirds tied down in the hangar deck and on the flight deck.
“We just watched (the Tom Hanks movie) ‘Greyhound’ on the deck of the USS Essex, with her crew, on a big screen framed by a B-25 and PBY, ” Ramey posted Sunday. “A magical experience to say the least.”
Prescott said he expects the planes to be craned onto a pier at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and then moved to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
“A few of the smaller planes have sought clearance for them to just do their own pleasure flights before the scheduled events,” he said.
Wheeler Army Airfield, which was attacked on
Dec. 7, 1941, was expected to be the staging area for the vintage warbirds.
Prescott said he hopes there’s the opportunity to take some of the World War II veterans up for flights.