It may not have been the trip they expected, but Diamond Point residents John Johnson and Dave Richardson helped honor a major piece of the U.S.’s and world’s history.
The friends traveled thousands of miles recently to take part in the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific.
Their plan was to fly in all of the events of the Legacy of Peace Aerial Parade including the main event on Sept. 2, but a collision a few days previous prevented them from flying over the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor.
The event honored the signing of the Instrument of Surrender and the end of war in the Pacific on Sept. 2, 1945.
After years in preparation for the 75th year, concerns for COVID-19 led to reduced events, and a smaller number of historic planes and veterans that couldn’t participate in person.
“Given the circumstances, everybody did the best they could,” said Richardson, a retired California Department of Transportation employee and U.S. Air Force veteran.
“We were proud to be there,” said Johnson, a retired FedEx pilot and U.S. Army Green Beret veteran.
The friends went to great lengths to participate leaving Diamond Point in mid-July to quarantine for 14 days in San Diego. The friends and Johnson’s T6 Texan then boarded the USS Essex and sailed for eight days on its way to training after dropping pilots and planes in Oahu.
About a dozen planes were able to participate in the festivities while many World War II veterans were unable to participate in the Sept. 2 presentation, including 14 veterans who witnessed the signing of surrender/peace, because of travel concerns.
“We were saddened to make that call but done for the sake of their health,” said Michael Carr, CEO of the USS Missouri Memorial Association.
The event was broadcast live and remains available for viewing at 75thwwiicommemoration.org.
“Winning the war meant American freedom,” said Gilbert Nadeau, a U.S. Navy signalman third class, in a video interview.
He and several other veterans spoke in videos as did several dignitaries through video and in-person like Mark Esper, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and David Ige, governor of Hawaii.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanked the veterans on behalf of the 2.3 million military men and women in the U.S.
He said World War II veterans fought to retain our freedom of speech, religion, press and more that we enjoy, and that those with firsthand knowledge of the war are becoming fewer and fewer.
Milley encouraged people not to forget “the sacrifices of those who went before us.”
For the Sept. 2 event, Johnson and Richardson received tickets to participate aboard the Missouri and watch the event alongside state and federal officials.
There were some emotional moments for them, they said, particularly for the men who couldn’t be there because of COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders.
Johnson said he was glad he could participate but felt his “heart was up there (in the sky).”
“That’s how I wanted to pay my tribute,” he said.
While on Oahu, the Diamond Point friends were able to fly in the T-6 Texan, which was used for training for combat during the war. Organizers said there were about 15,000 Texan planes by 1945.
Four Texan airplanes participated in the festivities. Johnson said they worked their way up to coordinating take-offs with two planes at a time.
“We were getting used to flying with each other,” he said.
“Thank God we did that. That was fun. We went everywhere on the island.”
Richardson said they flew out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to work on formation training with one or two flights each day. There were three official flights for the planes to do for the festivities, and the friends were able to participate in the first.
After the flight on Aug. 29, they were parked when another plane collided with them.
“We were shut down and parked and (the other pilot) hit a (large fire extinguisher) and added power, slammed on his brakes and pirouetted into us,” Richardson said.
The men said the position of the engine and propeller saved them.
“When he hit us, it was like a grenade going off,” Richardson said.
The damage is still being assessed, Johnson said, but the friends wanted to remain focused on what the trip was about.
“I just found myself immersed in the history,” he said.
Kaye Gagnon, Richardson’s wife, was able to travel to the festivities from Diamond Point and said families watching along fences were visibly excited during the festivities despite stay-at-home orders.
“It was so appreciated,” she said. “They took it upon themselves to come out because they felt it was important to show their respect.”