Hawaii commemoration of WWII's end joins RIMPAC in scaling back events

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 22, 2020

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HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Organizers of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II event in Hawaii said Friday night they made the “extremely difficult decision” to limit attendance at the Sept. 2 ceremony to World War II veterans who live in the state.

Approximately 46 World War II veterans and about an equal number of guardians were expected to travel to Hawaii for the commemoration on the fantail of the battleship Missouri, the site of Japan’s surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, officially ending the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind.

“In consideration of the current COVID-19 situation in Hawaii, and to help assure the health and safety of the veterans of our Greatest Generation, the extremely difficult decision was made to further limit attendance to the official commemoration ceremony on Sept. 2nd to WWII veterans who live in the state of Hawaii,” the planning committee said in a release. “However, efforts are being expanded in the global live streaming to incorporate and honor those veterans from outside Hawaii who had hoped to attend.”

Some 14 wartime veterans who live in Hawaii are still expected to attend the ceremony, officials said.

Both the 75th anniversary commemoration and the Navy’s Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise, usually a premier international event, are being heavily affected by COVID-19.

Among other recent 75th cancellations are the documentary premiere of “First to Fight — Pacific War Marines” scheduled for Aug. 30 and a commemoration dinner on Sept. 1 on the pier next to the Missouri.

Nearly midway through RIMPAC, Aug. 17 to 31, meanwhile, there’s a lot of warship maneuvers at sea and out of sight on a downsized version of what is usually the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

RIMPAC spokesman Cmdr. John Fage said Friday there have been no reports of COVID-19 among the 10 nations, 22 ships, one submarine and 5,300 personnel participating in an at-sea-only iteration of the drills.

RIMPAC ships, split into two task forces headed by Australia and South Korea, have been practicing ship formations, replenishment, gunnery and missile firings off the coast of the Hawaiian islands.

“Our capable, adaptive partners have completed numerous live-fire exercises which support joint and combined multi-domain training; maritime interdiction exercises, and replenishment at sea over the past week, all serving to improve our ability to operate and communicate with each other,” said Vice Adm. Scott Conn, the commander of RIMPAC. “We have executed all of our events safely and are looking forward to another week of building trust and collective strength which will help ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Capt. Phillipa Hay of the Royal Australian Navy is the first non-U.S. military woman to lead a RIMPAC task force, the U.S. Navy said.

During the course of RIMPAC, Hay has been in command of more than 2,500 sailors and officers across 11 warships from Australia, Canada, France, Japan, the Philippines and the United States.

“RIMPAC is a test of Australia’s maritime military capability, from warfighting exercises to the missile firings,” she said in a Navy- produced story. “It provides complex and challenging training in a multinational environment, perfect for strengthening interoperability with our regional partners and allies.”

The Navy plans a “sinkex” (sink exercise) next week using as a target the former USS Durham, a 575-foot amphibious cargo ship that saw service in the Vietnam War and participated in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.

Canada said its frigates Regina and Winnipeg will fire missiles in the sinkex, with Winnipeg to fire Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles and torpedoes, while Regina will fire a Harpoon missile.

The San Diego-based 844-foot amphibious assault ship USS Essex, a flattop capable of supporting helicopters, Ospreys and F-35B fighter short-takeoff aircraft, is participating in this year’s RIMPAC without any fighters.

In a dual-purpose role, the Essex transported 14 vintage aircraft to Oahu for the Aug. 29-Sept. 2 75th anniversary end-of-World War II observance. The U.S. contingent for RIMPAC also includes a cruiser, two destroyers and the submarine USS Jefferson City.

The 1943 PBY Catalina flying boat known as “Princess of the Stars” landed in Kaneohe Bay on Friday morning with four Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal divers who intended to further document a PBY that was sunk in the bay on Dec. 7, 1941. The notoriously murky waters stymied the effort, however.

Marine Corps veteran Coy Pfaff, whose family owns the Eugene, Ore.-based PBY, said “it was incredible” to land the big flying boat in the picturesque bay, take off, and then land at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Air Station.

Thirty-three PBYs at the base were damaged or destroyed by attacking Japanese planes on Dec. 7, 1941. Eighteen sailors and two civilians were killed.

The patrol bomber, with its distinctive 104-foot high wing and two blister windows on the fuselage, will be making a series of touch-and-go approaches in Kaneohe Bay this morning and Sunday morning, Pfaff said.

The aircraft transported on the Essex included a B-25 bomber, two PBY Catalina flying boats, an SNJ/AT-6 Texan, four AT-6 Texans, an FM2 Wildcat, F8F Bearcat, Stearman biplane, TBM Avenger, P-51 Mustang and a T-28 Trojan. Three other warbirds already in Hawaii also will participate.

Some of the warbirds will transition to Wheeler Army Airfield on Thursday for three aerial parades on Aug. 29 and 30 and Sept. 2.

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