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100-year-old WWII veteran sparks bill for Pacific War memorial

By ALLISON SCHAEFERS | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: November 10, 2017

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — A 100-year-old Oahu veteran has inspired a bipartisan bill to add a commemorative display honoring U.S. service members who fought in the Pacific theater to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which is home to the USS Arizona Memorial.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) introduced the “Admiral Lloyd R. ‘Joe’ Vasey Pacific War Commemorative Display Establishment Act” Wednesday along with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and an Armed Services Committee member.

Bishop said in a statement that “this legislation will memorialize the brave service members who defended our country in the Pacific theater.”

Hanabusa said the bill, which is part of this year’s Veterans Day effort, is meant to provide a place to mourn the more than 150,000 American and allied lives lost in the Pacific during World War II.

“This is a belated thank you to the WWII veterans and just as critically a special thank you to Admiral Vasey,” Hanabusa said. “He always said he wanted to see this become a reality by his 100th birthday. I’m just pleased that this effort is still part of his 100th year.”

Vasey, who became a centenarian on Jan. 31, returned from war to hit military career highlights such as chief of strategic plans and policies at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters, secretary to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; deputy director of the U.S. National Military Command Center in the Pentagon; and chief of staff for the commander, 7th Fleet. However, he said Wednesday that he’s never forgotten the sacrifices he saw while serving as a U.S. naval officer during WWII, where the submarine service lost about 22 percent of its members.

“The realities of war were really sad. We lost so many of my buddies and in many cases we had to leave them there. Their families need a place to mourn,” said Vasey, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1939 and served in WWII under Adm. John S. McCain Jr., father of U.S. Sen. John S. McCain III.

Vasey said his wartime experiences, especially battling a 36-hour depth charge attack on the USS Gunnel in 1943, led him to found the Pacific Forum CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies), a think-tank focused on the Asia-Pacific region. More recently, he’s been pushing for a Pacific War memorial.

“I’ve been working on this for a long time, and it’s long overdue. I want to see it in my lifetime,” Vasey said. “I want to pay my respects.”

Vasey envisions a Pacific War memorial would occupy about a 30-square-yard circular site at the Pearl Harbor waterfront between the visitor center and Bowfin Park. Surrounded by a lava rock wall, his proposed design features a center tile mosaic map of the Western Pacific that notes locations of the major battles and campaigns. The mosaic would be surrounded by about 20 podiums with informational displays of key historical moments. On the outside, there would be a 12-foot-wide walkway with six podiums, noting the contributions of the U.S.’s wartime allied nations.

“The USS Arizona marks the beginning of the war, the USS Missouri is about war’s end, and this memorial would commemorate the middle,” Vasey said.

Vasey, who has been lobbying for a memorial for seven years, saw the effort stall after the 2012 death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. But Hanabusa said she’s found renewed support for the endeavor from Bishop, whose committee has jurisdiction over the National Park Service and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. She said she’s also gotten backing from the National Park Service and the Pacific Historic Parks in Hawaii. She’s hopeful that U.S. Sen. John McCain Jr. (R-Ariz.), whom Vasey has known from infancy, also will provide “major support,” she said.

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In a 2012 file photo, retired Rear Adm. Lloyd "Joe" Vasey arrives at the Navy Hale Keiki School, where he was presented the first annual "Heart of a Hero" award by the Young Patriot's Club.
RONALD GUTRIDGE/U.S. NAVY

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