Twenty veterans who served during World War II and in Korea gathered Wednesday at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno not only to enjoy camaraderie but also to reflect on the end of World War II on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Atlantis and Honor Flight Nevada hosted a luncheon for the veterans, and they also watched the day's festivities on a big-screen live-feed presentation from Pearl Harbor that marked the 75th anniversary of the official surrender. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spoke at the ceremony.
“Throughout the war, millions of our countrymen answered the nation's call with great courage and selflessness,” he said. “Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities; from all walks of life and vocation, rich to poor; and from all corners of the country, from cities to suburbs to farms — they left behind their loved ones, men and women alike, to sail across oceans and join allies in a desperate fight for liberty.”
Many veterans who traveled on an Honor Flight Nevada trip to Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor and Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe had hoped to return to Oahu again for this week’s anniversary of the Instrument of Surrender, but travel restrictions placed on visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic excluded them from a second visit.
Jon Yuspa, founder and executive director of Honor Flight Nevada, said his board had an idea to host a lunch for the veterans who flew to Pearl Harbor in February. Yuspa said the Atlantis team developed a seating and distancing plan for the number of people having lunch.
“We wanted to honor the men and women and to honor their service,” Yuspa said.
According to Yuspa, the luncheon gave the veterans and guests an opportunity to share their stories again and to continue their camaraderie.
The Nevada veterans representing the “Greatest Generation” reminisced about their years in the military and the new friendships they forged in February during the five-day trip. Some had also taken a previous trip to Washington, D.C.
“My Hawaii trip was marvelous,” said Carson City resident Elmer Larsen, who initially joined the U.S. Army Air Force and transitioned to the U.S. Air Force when it became its own military branch in 1947.
Other veterans and their sponsors offered comments about the Hawaii trip and thanked Honor Flight Nevada for the opportunity to visit such sites as the USS Missouri, the battleship where the Instrument of Surrender was officially signed, the trip to the USS Arizona Memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Korean War veteran Ken Santor met Yumiko Moffat, whose late husband began a tradition of placing flowers for the fallen, at the cemetery on the second day of the trip. Santor and another veteran placed flowers at a monument to honor the warriors.
Santor was a 19-year-old Marine when he first arrived in Korea 70 years ago as part of the Incheon landing’s first wave at Blue Beach. His unit, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, landed in South Korea in September 1950.
Gilbert Sanchez persuaded his father to allow him to enlist in the Navy when he was 15 years old, and Bob LeGoy, who grew up in Bishop, Calif., enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a radar technician,
Retired Brig. Gen William “Bill” Burks, who has become a big supporter of Honor Flight, accompanied his mother, Mary, on a trip two years ago to the nation’s capital. They saw many memorials built in honor of veterans who served in the wars.
Seventy years ago in August, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima on Aug 6 and Nagasaki Aug. 9. The flights originated from the tiny island of Tinian, one of three islands in the Northern Marianas that served as the launching point for the atomic bomb attacks against Japan 3,000 miles away.
“She entered the in the Army in the medical corps,” Burks said of his mother. “She was a nurse on Tinian Island, where the Enola Gay and other planes took off. She also became part of the occupation forces in Japan (after the war).”
After Japan, Mary Burks returned to California to work as a nurse for Veterans Affairs hospital and over time, Bill Burks said she met another veteran at the Oakland VA Hospital who would eventually become her husband.
“She had some amazing stories to tell,” Burks said, grinning. “She didn’t talk about it, but when she did, she had some stories of what was going on in the South Pacific.”
Burks said his mother knew Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of Enola Gay, during their short time on Tinian.
“They are all part of the Greatest Generation,” Burks said.
Gene Brockman, who enlisted during the war period, served in the Army as a surgical technician at Camp Beale near Marysville before it became an Air Force installation, and then Camp Stoneman at Pittsburg, Calif. When he first arrived at Camp Beale, the base was discharging soldiers after they returned from the Pacific. Camp Stoneman was a staging point for sending the troops overseas, first to the Pacific and later to Korea in 1950. In between the two wars, the camp discharged the soldiers.
“Honor Flight is a tremendous program,” he said. “I was deeply involved with a veterans club at Incline Village.”
Brockman lived at Lake Tahoe for 31 years, moving to Nevada from Southern California. He has lived in Reno for a year. Honor Flight invited him to the luncheon, and Brockman said he was overwhelmed with a quilt presented to him.
“I’m very honored. The quilt is fantastic,” he said. “I’m dumbstruck by the recognition that happened.”
Since the February trip, Honor Flight Nevada recognized in memoriam two veterans who have died. Bayne Stevens and his unit, the 4th Marine Division, headed to the Pacific theater in February 1944 to capture strategic islands needed for the war effort against Japan. The islands included Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. Army Pvt. First Class Lynn Bradt witnessed the first-day attack on D-Day from LCI-99, which landed on Omaha Beach. After the soldiers stormed the beach, Bradt and others later ferried supplies from the ships to the shore and even inland in DUKWS, a six-wheel-drive amphibious assault vehicle.
Yuspa introduced Richard “Dick” Whiston of Carson City, who has sponsored numerous trips; Frank Greenwood, who has raised money for Honor Flight through the Disabled American Veterans; and John Farahi, CEO of Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, another advocate for veterans and Honor Flight Nevada. Mona Crandell Hook and Marsha Strand of the Comstock Lode Quilters presented a handmade quilt to Farahi and wrapped it around him.
Yuspa said Honor Flight Nevada wanted to thank Farahi personally and also recognize him before the veterans.
“He is passionate from the heart. He is very humbled,” Yuspa said.
During the quilt presentation, Farahi said he wanted to take a photo with the quilt and share it as well as telling others how important veterans are.
Jack Delaney served on the USS Missouri during the Korean War. Speaking for many of the veterans at the luncheon, he acknowledged Honor Flight Nevada and the Atlantis and what they have done for the service members.
“I don’t know how you can thank the people who put this together,” he said.
Editor’s note — World War II and Korean War veterans visited Pearl Harbor earlier this year as part of Honor Flight Nevada’s first trip to Hawaii. The end of World War II in both Europe and the Pacific occurred 75 years ago. During the year, the Nevada News Group has published numerous profiles on veterans and articles on key events during 1945.