Every year on Dec. 7, I remember not only the attack on Pearl Harbor but the trip that my wife, Kay, and I took in 2001 to New Orleans for the opening of the museum that commemorates it — the National D-Day Museum. While these recollections are unarguably personal, they recall, for me, not only my own experience of the war but pride in our country and honor for the men and women who served it then and who do so now, especially those who don’t come home.
I share these memories in the hope they will do the same for you.
Friday, Dec. 7, 2001
On the 60th anniversary of the attack at 7:55 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor, there was a “pealing of bells.” Every bell in town proclaimed the exact attack time.
We then proceeded to the Pacific victory parade, sitting among the VIPs. The program speakers were a cross-section of veterans and politicians. Don Bollinger, CEO of the museum, welcomed us. Mayor Marc Morial and the lieutenant governor of Louisiana also spoke.
Then President George W. Bush spoke of his years as a fighter pilot and government official. Joe Foss, ace of the Pacific war and the governor of North Dakota, spoke. Both Louisiana senators talked, along with Tom Hanks and Leon MacKay, director of veteran affairs. Stephen Ambrose, historian and founder of the museum, paid tribute to all the combat veterans present.
A dozen Medal of Honor recipients were present. The jets zoomed overhead. Current Marines marched and told their stories; and the band played, a glorious parade of Pearl Harbor veterans. We then proceeded to “Gathering of the Eagles,” where we listened to heroic deeds and a round-table discussion of the South Pacific battles. That evening was the premiere of the “Pacific War” film.
Saturday, Dec. 8, 2001
The Pacific invasion was re-enacted with landing craft-and-military men storming the beach. The Japanese Tora! Tora! Tora! group then reenacted the attack on Pearl Harbor. A Pacific beach assault was carried out simulating Tarawa. The beach was defended by a variety of military men and weapons.
At the museum, various battle films of the Pacific war were shown. We met two great ladies from Mississippi, one a military writer for the New Orleans paper, the other, a historian. They instantly made us VIPs, and we were invited to tour the USS Iwo Jima, a new LHC aircraft carrier. We met Capt. John Nawrocki, commanding officer. I sat in his chair and was invited to see the ship again in May 2002 in New York City for fleet week. He gave us a gold coin to come aboard any time. Being an Iwo vet paid off.
I met four Medal of Honor Marines, and we had a great talk of D-Day at Iwo Jima and what we all did. It suddenly became so real again.
Saturday evening was a re-enactment of a 1944 USO show and dinner dance.
This brought back memories of the night before shipping out in September of that year: I spent the night at the USO in Hollywood. I danced with a teenage Ava Gardner. Wow! I slept on a ping-pong table, and the next day, the LCI left for the Philippines.
The show was terrific. The USO gals of New York entertained as the Andrews Sisters, with all the great tunes. A highlight was when one left the stage, walked by 500 Marines, soldiers and sailors of all ages and landed on my lap. She cooed into my ear (with the microphone): “You will never walk alone.”
I have the newspaper picture to prove it.
The Marine Corps band played, and we dance, drank, ate and enjoyed the great show. I must say that we felt special, along with about 20 men from my outfit.
Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001
We went to a jazz brunch at the Commander’s Palace and then to a memorial service at the St. Louis Cathedral for all our fallen comrades lost in the war and those who had passed on since.
This was a very special weekend in my life, even though my wife, Kay, danced with young, handsome Marines. The museum is something to enshrine all of us for all time. It tells our story: the entire Pacific war, the battles from Pearl Harbor, Midway, Marshals, Marianas, Philippines, Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa and Pelieu. We did our job, and now a grateful country is saying, “thanks.” It feels good. Semper fi!
Harold Ronson is a World War II veteran who fought at Iwo Jima.