HONOLULU – When Japanese military leaders climbed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, the battleship was packed with U.S. sailors eager to see the end of World War II.
On Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the surrender, some of those same men who served the United States weren't able to return to the Missouri in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor because of the world’s new war against the coronavirus.
The commemoration initially was supposed to be a blockbuster event with parades, movie premieres, galas and thousands of people honoring the veterans in their 90s or beyond, some who may be marking the milestone for the last time.
Because of the threat of the virus, the ceremony was scaled down to about 50 people, with local veterans and government officials gathering on the USS Missouri in masks. The names were read of surviving WWII veterans, including 14 who were on the ship the day the Japanese surrendered.
Jerry Pedersen, 95, was one of them, watching history unfold as a young Marine. He and his comrades who live in the mainland U.S. had to watch a livestream of the ceremony from home instead of on the decks of the battleship as planned.
“Well, I was very disappointed, yes. I was hoping to maybe see a friend or two,” he said. “I just want to share with at least my family and a couple of other folks some of the feelings that I was going to express when I got there.”
Those feelings are complicated, said Pedersen, who dedicated his life to peace after the war ended.
“War must not happen again,” he said, recalling the words uttered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur on the day the Japanese surrendered. But “we’re still oscillating on many of the things that are necessary to bring us peace.”