Trip Brings Peace to Pearl Harbor Survivors - WBAY

Trip Brings Peace to Pearl Harbor Survivors

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It's an experience a group of Wisconsin World War II veterans say they'll never forget.

Thanks to an Old Glory Honor Flight, 18 survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor had the opportunity to go back to Hawaii one last time.

More than 70 years after the darkest day in American military history, these distinguished veterans returned to where they were in the middle of it all.

During their four days in Hawaii, the veterans laughed and shared stories. They cried and paid tribute. And they returned to Wisconsin changed by their time together.

It's a journey they never dreamed was possible. Not now, not at their age, not after all these years.

When you're approaching 90, or on the other side of it, a 6,000 mile journey seems like a mighty tall order.

That is, unless you're a Pearl Harbor survivor and have the chance to go back with other men who understand.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I think of all the times I've been here to Pearl Harbor and here in Hawaii, I don't think there's been a time that I felt so complete in what happened here the last couple of days, and I'll go to my grave and I'm sure I'll never forget," Firman Balza said.

By land and by sea, the veterans traveled back to where they served, back to where they survived.

 

"At first I thought it wasn't going to affect me too much, but it has, it's tough," Ed Miklavcic admitted, "to see all the misery that was created and changing our life so much."

More than 70 years after the Japanese attack, most of these men met for the very first time.

The connection was instant, the bond forever lasting.

"We have a special group," George Hutton remarked, "people that went through that terrible thing and survived it and have lived this long. My God."

During their return, the veterans paid respect to the so many men they saw fall that day with their own two eyes. Shipmates, soldiers, friends.

Unexpected, and deeply touching for the survivors, was the respect and honor given to them everywhere they went.

"Yeah, the attention overwhelms you really, if you're sensitive like that at all that way," Marcel Brow said.

"I can't get over how much respect and how much people were so concerned and so sincere. And you can tell the sincereness of all this, that's not a put on act, it's coming from inside," Balza said.

"I just got to thank them silently, because I, I couldn't stand up and say it," Brow said.

As their time in Hawaii comes to a close, the veterans realize this is it.

"Probably my last hurrah," Firman said.

"I just don't have the body left to go," Miklavcic said.

It isn't easy saying goodbye, but they're at peace.

"In your lifetime, if you live 92 years, you leave a lot of good places," Hutton said.

But they gave up on the notion of closure a long time ago.

"I don't think it will ever leave me, no I don't," Joe Sweeney says. "These guys, they went through hell. I I had nothing to do with it."

"I try to forget it as far as being angry, but sometimes, you know, it's like trying to quit swearing, once in a while something blurps out, you got to give it up sometime," Bud Sweeney says. 

Does he think he ever will? "Not as far as a Japanese car," he replies, chuckling.

"Forgiveness is one thing, you know. To hate somebody, that's something else. But to turn your back on somebody who's really did you some bad stuff, that takes a hell of a lot bigger man than Firman Joe Balza."

"Now after 70 years..." Pearl Harbor survivor Joe Sweeney takes a long pause as the emotions hit him, "it don't leave me."

 

While these veterans will most likely never return to Pearl Harbor again, Pearl Harbor will never leave them.

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