Four World War II veterans and their caretakers who traveled to Hawaii for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor were welcomed home with open arms by the Lake Placid Elks on Wednesday, Jan. 4.
These American heroes were all on active duty during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. None of the four was stationed at Pearl Harbor that fateful day.
The intimate homecoming party was held at the lodge and the veterans shared their experiences and pictures they took on the adventure. The veterans’ emotions ran the gamut as they shared their adventures; one minute they were smiling and laughing about an encounter and the next they were choked up.
The Elks held many fundraisers to finance the trip for the veterans and their companions.
Bill Defrees traveled with his wife, Sam. Defrees was just 17 years old when he entered the service as a member of the a Seabee.
Lionel LaGrow was accompanied by his wife Ruth. LaGrow was also 17 years old upon entering the Merchant .
Phil Margetts served in the U.S. Navy for six years; he was accompanied by Norm Church.
U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Herb attended the ceremonies with his daughter, Sandy Papsin.
The veterans were revered with parades and ceremonies in Hawaii to honor them and the veterans that never made it home. They went sightseeing and learned much of the Polynesian culture. They were treated as VIPs where ever they went.
It would seem the massive parade was a shared favorite event. A pre-parade celebration acted as a meet-and-greet with veterans from all over the country. The parade had 168 entries and lasted three hours. Marching band members thanked the veterans for their service. Many parade attendants and active service members asked to take pictures with the heroes.
“After the parade was over, a teenager took off his high school band shirt and gave it to me,” said Margetts.“It touched me so much.” Margetts was also given a “Quilt of Valor,” handmade by three women in Iowa. He was honored to be one of only two recipients.
“The parade was awesome,” said . “There were so many people that attended, I couldn’t believe it.”
“The young people were amazing,” said LaGrow’s wife, Ruth. “They were so kind and respectful. They thanked our veterans and took pictures with them with no prompting from others. It was very touching.”
LaGrow had the most romantic response when asked what his favorite part of the trip was. “My favorite part was being with my wife,” he said.
A memorial ceremony was bittersweet as thousands of civilians joined with veterans to honor the dead and survivors of the attack. Actor Gary Sinise emceed the ceremony. Many service men and women wore their original uniforms, adding to the nostalgia.
Margetts said he became emotional as the United State Corp band played at the memorial service. “I was shocked when the USMC band played ‘Anchors Away’,” said Margetts. “I just lost it.”
The veterans and their companions said they will never forget their tour of the USS Arizona memorial. They surveyed the wreckage with tears in their eyes. Oil still seeps out of the ship 75 years later. This seemed particularly poignant to the visitors. “To see the oil still coming out of the USS Arizona; it gave me goose pimples,” said Ruth LaGrow. “It was an emotional day.”
Church was moved by the site as well. “I felt the oil symbolized tears,” he said.
Throughout the emotionally exhausting day, the veterans and their companions were grateful to the Elks for sending them on the trip. “We couldn’t have gone without the Elks,” said Defrees. “It was a once in a lifetime trip.
Margetts summed up all of the traveler’s gratitude to the Elks. “I don’t know how we can thank them all for sending us,” he said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to all who donated.”