PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- America's Veterans Day ceremonies came to a close in Pearl Harbor onboard the nation's last battleship, the retired USS Missouri, in a moving ceremony that concluded as the twilight of day turned into dusk.
The "Mighty Mo" is the only place in Hawaii officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a regional site for the observance of Veterans Day. The Battleship Missouri Memorial's Veterans Day Sunset Ceremony honored the bravery and service of America's military veterans, both past and present, and featured a special tribute to the Hawaii-based Armed Forces members who gave their lives while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Near the end of the ceremony, representatives of each Armed Forces branch gently tossed 331 flowers into the hallowed waters of Pearl Harbor, with each flower offered in the memory of the 331 Hawaii Medal of Honor recipients who gave their lives defending our freedom in the Middle East from 2006 to this year.
"We are eternally grateful to all of our Armed Forces veterans for their service to America, and to their families for supporting their loved ones as they bravely put themselves in harm's way to protect the freedoms we all cherish," said Michael Carr, President & CEO of the USS Missouri Memorial Association. "It was an especially poignant moment honoring our youngest generation of veterans who once called Hawaii home and made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country in combat over the past decade."
Providing the keynote address for today's ceremony was Rear Admiral Richard "Rick" L. Williams, Commander of Navy Region Hawaii and the Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. RDML Williams oversees the Navy's largest and most strategic island base in the Pacific.
Along with recognizing the reverence of Veterans Day to all Armed Forces members, RDML Williams noted the significance of the month of November in America's historic battles overseas. He cited the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II in November 1942, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War in November 1950, the Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam War in November 1965, the battle of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan in November 2001, and the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in November 2004.
Also offering remarks were Vice Admiral Robert K.U. Kihune, USN (Ret.), former Chairman of the Board for the USS Missouri Memorial Association from 2002-2014, and Mark Marble, Military Adaptive Sports Coordinator for Schofield Barracks and founder of AccesSurf Hawaii, which provides modified surfing instruction and therapeutic water-based programs to people with disabilities.
The ceremony also featured music by the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division Band and concluded with a flyover by a vintage World War II airplane, provided courtesy of Pacific Warbirds. The 1944 U.S. Navy SNJ, manufactured by North American Aircraft, was piloted by Bruce Mayes, retired United States Coast Guard Commander and president of Pacific Warbirds.
Among the special guests attending today's ceremony was Ed Vezey, a World War II veteran who was stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The USS Oklahoma was in the same location on Battleship Row where the retired USS Missouri, now known as the Battleship Missouri Memorial, is now berthed at Pier Foxtrot-5. The USS Oklahoma capsized during the attack and 429 crewmembers died. Mr. Vezey is one of the last few surviving crewmembers and he flew from his home in Moore, Oklahoma to attend the ceremony.
Another special guest attending today's ceremony was John O'Neill, a retired World War II veteran from Wallingford, Connecticut. Mr. O'Neill was stationed aboard the USS Nicholas (DD-449), which transported 87 high-ranking dignitaries to the USS Missouri to take part in the ceremony of Imperial Japan's formal surrender that ended World War II on September 2, 1945. He served as a "side boy" during the ceremony, saluting dignitaries as they passed.
Before today's ceremony, Mr. O'Neill presented the USS Missouri Memorial Association with a special flag and plaque from the USS Nicholas, which was decommissioned in 1970. He felt the Battleship Missouri Memorial was the most appropriate permanent home for these treasured items.
As a gesture of appreciation for donating the flag and plaque, O'Neill was presented with a U.S. flag that was ceremoniously folded by the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam Honors and Ceremonies Detachment.
Battleship Missouri Memorial
Since opening in January 1999, the Battleship Missouri Memorial has attracted more than 6-million visitors from around the world with a fascinating tour experience showcasing the USS Missouri's unique place in history. Located a mere ship's length from the USS Arizona Memorial, the Mighty Mo completes a historical visitor experience that begins with the "day of infamy" and sinking of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and ends with Imperial Japan's surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
The USS Missouri had an astounding career over five decades and three wars - World War II, the Korean War, and Desert Storm - after which it was decommissioned and donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The Association operates the Battleship Missouri Memorial as a historic attraction and oversees her care and preservation with the support of visitors, memberships, grants, and donations.