By Chris Stone
Some 10,000 wounded troops packed Balboa Naval Hospital. Two Navy supply ships were docked downtown. Pilots honed their skills above Naval Air Station North Island.
Such was Aug. 14, 1945, when San Diego was a focal point for resupplying troops for the Pacific fight during World War II. It was an active Navy and Marine Corps community, recounts Mac McLaughlin, president and CEO of USS Midway Museum.
But on this date 75 years ago, the Navy pilots planes were told to land. At Broadway and North Harbor Island, drivers heard the broadcast on their radios: The war was over.
Motorists danced on the hoods and roofs of their cars at hearing the momentous news from President Harry Truman.
On Friday, three World War II veterans gathered near that intersection aboard the USS Midway Museum — not to celebrate but to honor their fellow servicemen who fought and died in that war.
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Each veteran spoke about their military experiences, and the ceremony ended with a wreath tossed into the sea and the playing of taps. About a dozen docents made up the audience in a ceremony closed to the public.
Taps was played at 114 national cemeteries across the country, moving like a wave from East Coast to West. After the mournful melody was played on the Midway by Roy Zany, assistant director of the California Chapter of Bugles Across America, it was Hawaii’s turn.
Said one of the veterans, aviator Al Hansen: “Everybody was so excited because all it meant to everyone of us who were overseas: We’re going home.”
Asked about his major achievement during the war, 93-year-old Hansen said, “Staying alive and not getting shot. We were shot at. Fortunately, not one of us on the ship or plane was killed or hurt.”
He said they were all scared to death, but all made it through.
“I think I am the only one left in my group,” said Hansen, who was a gunner for Patrol Bombing Squadron 10 in the Pacific Theater.
Veteran naval pilot Don Hubbard was ambivalent when the war ended.
While certainly happy about Victory Day, he was in pre-flight school in Georgia at the time and had his sights set on being a pilot. He eventually earned his wings, and flew in the Baltics.
Hubbard recalled his neighborhood during the war. All young men were off to war, including all of the members of his Boy Scout troop and high school class, he said. The Greatest Generation, they’re called.
And veteran Jack Scott was in Normandy on Victory Day at 6 a.m., when he got word of the war ending. He stayed on to help postwar and served in Korea.
Scott was a crew member of the USS Maloy that supported the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“I am finishing my Navy career as a docent” on the USS Midway where he has educated visitors for 15 years, he said.
Honor Flight San Diego and the Spirit of ‘45 also took part in the 9 a.m. ceremony.
Hansen, who also serves as a Midway docent, said he is dismayed when young visitors to the Vietnam-era aircraft carrier named for the WWII Battle of Midway lack historical education.
“I’ve heard young people say: ‘What World War II?’” he said. “We lost pretty close to a half a million young men and women, so that we could stand here and discuss (the war that took place) 75 years ago.”
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