Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 9




July 23, 2017

Gena Oppenheim, Matt Poth, and Amanda Reid-Cossentino

Manila American Cemetery


On Sunday morning, we gathered early to head to the Manila American Cemetery. Driving through the gates, we were immediately struck by the vastness and beauty of the cemetery. The largest of the ABMC sites, Manila American Cemetery memorializes 17,097 Fallen Heroes with headstones and 36,286 more on its Walls of the Missing. The humidity that greeted us as we stepped out the vans was a subtle reminder of the difficult tropical conditions encountered by troops in the Pacific Theater.


As we made our way through the rows of the fallen, the weight of the sacrifice made by these men and women from diverse backgrounds, truly sunk in. The idea of universal sacrifice was driven home as we listened to the first two eulogies: one memorialized a Red Cross worker while the other honored a fallen performer from the USO. The totality of the war was emphasized at the grave of Evelyn Wahlberg, a dancer buried in a mass grave with her husband and members of the Philippine Army, with whom they shared their final flight.



We next traveled to the massive Walls of the Missing which circle around the center of the cemetery. The structure is designed so that one feels totally surrounded by names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The crests of the 50 states line walkways that lead past intricate and stunning mosaic battle maps that lend perspective and context to the major campaigns of the Pacific Theater. Here we heard eulogies commemorating the lives of six other Fallen Heroes. In particular, we were struck by the story of Teofilo Yldefonzo. Yldefonzo won two bronze medals in swimming at the Olympic Games in 1928 and 1932, before becoming a Philippine Scout when the war broke out.


It is easy to become lost in a sea of names, but the eulogies showed us today that each name represents a unique story and a sacrifice that deserves to be honored and remembered.


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Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 7




July 19, 2017

Jeremy Miller and Ryan Kaiser


Today we were welcomed at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii by community relations director Linda Read. The DPAA’s mission is to locate, recover and identify missing military service members around the world.

Our group got a behind-the-scenes look at the research and science that goes into locating and identifying our missing heroes around the world. Missing service members going back as far as World War II are still being recovered and brought back to the United States to be given proper honors. The DPAA plays a crucial in answering questions that family members of the missing have waited decades for.

The DPAA relies on many different specialists to accomplish their mission. Historians, archeologists, anthropologists, and explosive ordinance disposal technicians are just a few of the professionals that help to bring our missing service members home.

Having people at the top of their fields gives the DPAA a much better chance for success. For example, on one mission, a team member recognized that a local inhabitant’s sandals were made from the rubber of a tire that could have come from an aircraft they were searching for. That important piece of evidence would likely go unnoticed my most people.

Currently, DPAA is working tirelessly to identify the remains of sailors and Marines that were aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

We saw firsthand how dedicated the DPAA is to honoring and respecting the remains of the service members under their care. In the processing lab when they are not being examined, the remains of our heroes are always facing the American flag. Families are also able to spend as much time as they need with the remains of their loved one in a private room.

It is truly amazing the degree to which the United States will go to find and bring home our missing heroes.

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Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 6




July 18, 2017

Walt Davis and Greta Hamilton


Several of us gave eulogies for our fallen heroes today at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.  https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/nmcp.asp


This location is in a beautiful volcanic crater overlooking the city and is another stunning example of excellent work being done by the National Cemetery Administration and the American Battle Monuments Commission. The cemetery slopes upward from the Lower Columbaria and gravesides to the Honor Courts of the Honolulu Memorial at the top.



We were led on a tour by Gene Maestas of their Public Affairs office.  He took us all over the site and showed us a beautiful overlook of Honolulu and the entire southern beach of Oahu that rivals any overlook in the state. He mentioned that this crater and overlook had special historical and spiritual experience to the Hawaiian people. We could see why.



We also saw the ongoing process with resurfacing and engraving the limestone on the Courts of the Missing. Tim Nosal of ABMC described the process and care taken with the materials in great detail. We continue to be amazed and proud of the work and budget our country puts into honoring its war dead. It continues to be a highlight in our visits to these resting places.



One big highlight to the day was the large statue of Lady Liberty in the center of the Courts of Honor at the Honolulu Memorial with the inscription by Abraham Lincoln…


“The solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom”


These eloquent words give us pause when considering the Punchbowl visual below of so many who laid a costly sacrifice.



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Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 5




Monday, July 17, 2017

Katie Hoerner

Leif Liberg


It’s strange to be thinking about tragedy when we are surrounded by so much beauty. Today we explored various perspectives of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We began by hearing from two men who witnessed the attack as children. Their story illustrated how this event transformed lives in an instant. Their perspective of the attack, and the treatment of their Japanese-American neighbors was unique, seen through their young eyes.


We then heard from Dr. Mitch Yamasaki, a professor at Chaminade University of Honolulu, who helped us understand the rise of Japan as a power in the Pacific. His discussion illustrated how Japan sought to rival the strength of western powers by transforming their military and political infrastructure. Dr. Yamasaki’s discussion left us eager to learn more about this transitional period in world history.


After meeting a 100-year-old World War II veteran who flew bombers during the Guadalcanal campaign, we split into learning groups to take advantage of some of the other learning opportunities available at Pearl Harbor. From the Pacific Aviation Museum, to the decks of the USS Missouri and the USS Bowfin, and even a modern NOAA facility, we gained varied perspectives on the impact that Pearl Harbor can have in our classrooms.


To round out our day, we traveled to the USS Arizona Memorial. Making an already emotional experience more poignant, we were joined by the family of Pearl Harbor survivor and Medal of Honor recipient Chief Petty Officer John Finn. The navy’s newest guided missile destroyer bears his name. Following an invocation by an Air Force chaplain in the shrine room, a gentle rain began to fall. Katie shared a moving eulogy for Seaman Second Class Bruce Bradley. As she finished, a rainbow arched across the harbor.


Pearl Harbor offers both beautiful and tragic perspectives on the lives of those who came before us. They inspire us to remember, learn, and share the lessons of the past.

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Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 4




July 16, 2017

Ellen Davis

Hawaii is a place of much beauty and many contrasts.  This was quite apparent today as many of us hiked up Diamond Head, a volcanic tuff cone.  It has been home to many things over time, including Fort Ruger, the first United States military reservation on Hawaii. It has been used as a military lookout point for many decades, even during World War II. It was interesting to contrast the natural features that helped the military in Hawaii with the human created military bases that we saw at Pearl Harbor and on Ford Island.



We had the privilege of visiting the Pacific Aviation Museum, a ten-year old museum dedicated to the attack on Pearl Harbor and things related to aviation in World War II and beyond.  The museum does a great job of involving visitors immediately upon entering the museum. We walked through a “tunnel of time,” showcasing large-scale photos of Hawaii through the 20th century before entering the main exhibit hall. We were able to step-into much of the exhibits due to an overhang of airplane wings and large-scale floor maps of the Pacific.  Mannequins are dressed in period uniforms (they looked quite real out of the corner of my eye!), and there are many authentic objects in the exhibits. It’s great that the exhibits were constructed to be so large-scale because they also remind you that the museum itself is inside a Pearl Harbor Navy hangar. And, while we couldn’t touch objects in the exhibits, the sheer size of the airplanes really helped to make us feel a part of the exhibit and gave us a multi-sensory experience. Our docent, Gerry, was an extremely knowledgeable guide through the museum, aided by the fact that he was a retired military pilot himself. I must say that everyone in our group was really impressed with the in-depth knowledge he had of the battles and the war in the Pacific and his ability to take complex military situations and explain them in a way that made sense.



Another powerful and meaningful experience during the day was the visit to the memorials for the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma, which was part of a bus tour that we took of Ford Island. This was also fascinating because of the special access we had that the public did not. Our very articulate tour guide took us to see marks that were still left on the base by Japanese bullets before taking us to the USS Utah Memorial. We got to hear the terrible account of the 58 sailors that went down with the Utah and were entombed in its hull, with an additional story about the Chief Yeoman who escaped but who left the ashes of his infant daughter on board when the vessel was attacked. We heard about how he was unable to recover them afterward even though he had the assistance of the navy. The USS Utah memorial is not often visited, as its location is restricted. The rusted hull of the ship sticks up through the otherwise beautiful water, reminding us all where to find her and that nature often finds a way to live in harmony with what man has wrought.

We also got to see the very moving memorial to the hundreds of sailors and Marines that died when the USS Oklahoma capsized. The USS Oklahoma Memorial is a haunting salute to those who were lost as she sank.  Each fallen hero is represented by a narrow marble obelisk, standing upright and tall, almost as if they were standing at attention. The obelisks are in formation around a flagpole. This powerful memorial is a chilling reminder of the fragility of life, and how duty seems to call, forever more. It was a powerful experience. After the bus tour, we headed to lunch.

After lunch, we had the privilege of heading over to the hangar where more restored airplanes were kept. After a tour of the hangar where we got detailed scientific and technological explanations on the evolution of aviation technology, we got to do hands on lessons with the Pacific Aviation Museum staff. One was a forensic examination of the remains of a downed B-17 that had been salvaged from a swamp in Papua New Guinea called the Swamp Ghost. It was a lot of fun taking our observations and putting them together to figure out what happened to the plane. Next, we got to experience hands on what it was like for the millions of women who operated riveters and build the vast armada that the United States had by the end of the war by doing some riveting ourselves.

It really brought home how hard all of the “Rosie the Riveters” were working back in the US to support the troops who had been deployed overseas. Finally, we got to explore the inside of a C-47 cargo plane and connect that plane to the dangerous missions flown to supply China over the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India theater of the war.

We capped off an amazing day with a tour of the mighty battleship, the USS Missouri. Our tour guide who was a Japanese American had an uncle that fought for Japan and a grandfather who fought for the United States. He was able to give us a great tour of the battleship complete with stories from both the point of view of the United States and Japan. We ended the tour standing on the deck area where General Douglas MacArthur signed the papers ending World War II and accepted the official Japanese surrender.

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Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 2




Friday, July 14, 2017

Whitney Joyner & Kevin Wagner


The day began with our arrival at the Presidio, located on the northwest corner of the San Francisco Peninsula. The Presidio has a rich history spanning back to the time of the native Ohlone people. The Spanish arrived in 1776 to establish the northernmost outpost of their empire in western North America. The U.S. Army took control in 1846 and over the next 148 years transformed the Presidio grounds from mostly dunes and scrub to a verdant, preeminent military post on the west coast. The first known burial at this location occurred in 1854. After a petition by Lieutenant Colonel George P. Andrews to Congress, the San Francisco National Cemetery was created as the first national cemetery on the west coast in 1884.

Here we entered the cemetery from the upper-most portion, greeted by stone walls on opposite sides of the walkway covered with the famous poem by Archibald MacLeish, “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak.” We made our way down the sloping hillside, noticing row upon row of fallen heroes going back as far as the Civil War. Almost at the bottom, we paid tribute to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Leinbach who served our nation during World Wars I and II. After surviving three years as a prisoner of war and one hell ship, his life came to a close on a second hell ship. Both his wife and daughter are laid to rest with him, reuniting the family. Further down was the grave of Clayton Lloyd Landon, a young submariner who lost his life in the Pacific Ocean aboard the USS Tullibee. Both of these men know command a peaceful view of the Golden Gate Bridge as their final resting place.

We followed our trip to the San Francisco National Cemetery with a visit to the West Coast Memorial to honor U.S. Navy Quartermaster Second Class Edgar Blannam Atkinson. Atkinson is one of the 413 soldiers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and airmen memorialized at the West Coast Memorial, erected in memory of those who met their deaths in the American coastal waters of the Pacific during World War II and whose remains were never recovered or identified.

As we approached the memorial, the fog rolled in over the Pacific, covering a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Atkinson served aboard the USS Cummings before falling overboard in a high sea on January 27, 1942. As we stood before the memorial, we could not help but think of Atkinson’s sisters and how we wished they could see the setting there. While we were only there a short time, it was a truly meaningful experience to honor and remember Edgar’s life, service, and ultimate sacrifice.

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Understanding Sacrifice: The Pacific – Day 1




July 13, 2017

Cat Phillips and Daniel Jocz

Our journey for Understanding Sacrifices started off at Golden Gate National Cemetery located in the city of San Bruno, south of San Francisco in California. It is an impressive cemetery which has over 145,000 internments and 15 Medal of Honor recipients buried in this location. Golden Gate Cemetery also have other notable burials including:

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the commander of Pacific Fleet in World War II and wife Catherine Nimitz

Admiral Charles Lockwood (commander of Submarine Force Pacific Fleet) and wife Phyllis Lockwood

This “Admiral Row ” is fascinating since they coordinated their burial site to be together when they were still living. Also the wives were approved to have their own headstones and plot beside their husband’s in this national cemetery.

As you see row upon rows of white headstones, the city proper of San Francisco flanks the landscape with its distinctive colorful homes and undulating hillsides. What a proper location for those who have served our great nation.

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