REGION — A pair of World War II veterans from North County spent last week remembering and honoring those killed in one of the country’s most devastating attacks.
Walt Travis, 92, of Carlsbad and Art Smith, 93, of San Marcos, traveled to Honolulu for the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing.
Travis and Smith, both former Marines, spent the week taking in all the sights and ceremonies organized by numerous government and private entities. They even met actor Gary Sinise, who also put on a show with his Lt. Dan Band, which champions causes for veterans and active military personnel.
It was also a reunion of sorts, as the two men first met at basic training at Camp Pendleton shortly after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.
Smith fought in the invasion of Guam, while Travis fought in Guadalcanal, among other Southeast Asian islands.
“They had the biggest parade I ever saw,” Smith recalled of the trip to Pearl Harbor. “I would say over 100 people came up and shook my hand. The trip was just very, very special. It was something I’ll never forget.”
According to Dave Smith, Art’s son, founder of Honor Flight San Diego and his father’s guardian on the trip, the quest to find Pearl Harbor survivors took nearly three years. American and Alaskan airlines and some other airliners flew any Pearl Harbor survivors and WWII vets to Hawaii for free.
In addition, all the vets and their guardians’ hotel, food, transportation and access to events were free.
Dave Smith said organizers from the Pearl Harbor event contacted him to find WWII vets since there were not many living Pearl Harbor survivors. About 20 vets from San Diego County were contacted and made the trip, Smith said.
“It was great to be able to participate with him,” Dave Smith said of being there with his father. “It meant a great deal to him and see all of the ceremonies and be a part of it.”
Travis, whose guardian was his son, Scott, said it was an experience he will never forget.
In fact, Sinise served veterans on their flight food.
The commemoration drew top military brass and dignitaries and politicians from the United States and Japan.
Travis choked up recalling the ceremony and the day 75 years ago. The memories of the shock of the country, which pushed the U.S. into WWII, was overwhelming, as he noted in a profile in The Coast News several months ago.
He and Smith said the speeches were great and touching, as were the visits to the USS Arizona, which sank in nine minutes and killed 1,177 servicemen. In all, 2,335 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed in the attack.
Travis and the other vets also received a tour of the USS Missouri, the ship where the Japanese officially surrendered.
“They talked about the men that died there on the ships,” Travis said. “When I was at the (USS) Arizona … just about everyone was a Pvt. First Class, 18-years-old, right of school. That was very hard to stomach.”