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Flock of warbirds planned for flyover on 75th anniversary of WWII’s end

Then-Secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark Esper, talks to 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command Soldiers at the Landstuhl Satellite Facility, Germany, on Sept. 24, 2018. (Pfc. Charles Thorman/U.S. Army)

Planning for the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II has taken a major step forward with authorization for the military to transport up to 24 World War II-era aircraft and their pilots to and from Pearl Harbor for the commemoration.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a Jan. 27 memo that he is seeking coordinated effort for a “lift of opportunity” to get privately owned warbirds to Oahu for the Aug. 29-to-Sept. 2 events.

Officials said that means transport by ship, including an aircraft carrier or other flattop, or Air Force cargo plane such as a C-5 Galaxy or C-17 Globemaster III.

“A priority for the Department of Defense is to tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world and to help all generations understand the price of freedom,” Esper said in the memo. “As we approach the 75th anniversary of V-J Day (Victory over Japan) on Sept. 2, 2020, I am encouraging all services to seek opportunities to honor this important milestone.”

Elissa Lines, executive director of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, said the owners of 19 aircraft have so far applied to participate.

Aircraft on the list include a B-25 Mitchell bomber, A-26 Invader, SBD Dauntless dive bomber, P-40 Warhawk, TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, P-51 Mustang, F4F Wildcat, C-47 transport, PBY Catalina, F-8 Bearcat and T-6 Texan, she said.

Esper’s decision is “huge,” Lines said, “and it speaks to the commitment of the DOD to ensure that the commemoration activities here in Hawaii have the same level of support and endorsement as the events that are happening in D.C.”

She also cautioned that “there is still a lot to review and get done to make this happen. It is not a done deal.”

Tentative plans include a formation flyover on Sept. 2 of the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor — site of Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945 in Tokyo Bay, ending the deadliest conflict in human history — as well as routes on other days circling Oahu.

“One of the things that we’re really looking at is the use of Wheeler (Army) Airfield,” Lines said. “It’s a historic airfield tied to World War II. So we’re looking at a lot of our community programming, educational programming and engagement opportunities happening at Wheeler.”

“Again, all of this is under discussion,” she said.

In December, at the same spot on the battleship Missouri where Gen. Douglas MacArthur added his signature to Japan’s surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, Gov. David Ige sat at a similar table to kick off planning for events celebrating those who won the hard-fought peace and paved the way for an enduring reconciliation.

More than 800 bombers and other aircraft overflew the Missouri at the surrender ceremony in a show of the overwhelming force the United States was able to bring to bear in World War II.

The 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, with the theme “Salute Their Serv­ice, Honor Their Hope,” will be commemorated on Oahu with educational forums, galas, a parade, the anticipated warbird flyovers and a Sept. 2 ceremony on and adjacent to the Missouri expected to be attended by 5,000 to 10,000 people.

The reconciliation with Japan that resulted in the former enemy becoming one of America’s staunchest allies also will be highlighted.

The end of the war will be memorialized on Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, on May 8 with ceremonies and over 100 World War II fighters and bombers flying over the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

On Jan. 10, 2019, President Donald Trump signed the “75th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Act,” intended to thank and honor veterans of the war and highlight the serv­ice of the armed forces during that time.

Heads of state and regional militaries will be invited to attend the Pearl Harbor event — raising speculation that Trump might attend.

President Bill Clinton was on Oahu for the 50th anniversary of V-J Day in 1995. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson the month before loaded aboard 12 World War II warbirds and launched 11 off its deck while transiting off the coast of Waikiki, according to the Navy.

Ewa historian John Bond was aboard the Carl Vinson and remembers two B-25 Mitchell bombers lumbering off the deck in a tip of the hat to the Doolittle Raid, in which 16 B-25s took off from the carrier USS Hornet in April 1942 to strike back at Tokyo after the Pearl Harbor attack.

“It was amazing” to see, Bond said. There was a sense of nostalgia to “see all these Navy crewmen on the side of the deck like you’d see in a World War II picture — waving the planes off. You have a great sense of emotion, at least for people like me who love history.”

He also remembers another day when “they had the big parade of ships come by, Russian ships and ships from France and Eng­land, and they launched the planes and did a flyby.”

Lines doesn’t expect any warbirds to fly off an aircraft carrier this time. The military also hasn’t finalized plans as to how planes will arrive, whether as part of Rim of the Pacific exercises this summer or other means, she said.


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