Locals celebrate ‘VJ Day’

Locals celebrate ‘VJ Day’

Victory over Japan signaled end of World War II

There will be a VJ Day celebration lunch on Friday, Sept. 2 at noon, sponsored by the Tavernier Elks Lodge 1872. VJ Day is the day the Japanese formally surrendered to allied forces in the South Pacific and the official end of World War II.

The event has been coordinated by local veteran Capt. John Felso, a former Army helicopter pilot and Ray Eubanks, Exalted Ruler of Lodge 1872. Felso is graduate of the Army’s helicopter pilot program of 1968, and later went on to pilot civilian fixed-wing aircraft, such as the PT-17.

“We have county transportation to pick up anyone who needs it, and for veterans the meal is free,” said Eubanks. “We have two World War II members at our lodge. We like to do a lot for our veterans because without them we wouldn’t have what we do today.”

The celebration will pay homage to the brave Americans who fought in WWII. The final remnants of the “Greatest Generation” are few and far between, those left are approaching 100 years old. Keys families with living veterans who served in WWII are encouraged to bring their hero. All WWII veterans, and their caregivers, will be provided free lunch and drinks. The music of Eva Joyce, a former USO performer for U.S. troops, and the late Glenn Miller Band, a popular big band of the era, will be the entertainment.  All veterans are welcome, in or out of uniform, as well as the public.

 Felso hoped to have two WWII veterans that served aboard the USS The Bunker Hill (CV-17), which was struck by two Japanese kamikaze planes on May 11, 1945. Unfortunately, these heroes have passed on, one recently, but have left an incredible story of bravery.

Pearly Lee was a Navy sailor working propulsion systems in the lower decks of the Bunker Hill. When the Kamikaze planes engulfed the air craft carrier in flames, that only way Lee and others survived suffocation was by taking turns breathing inside a spray of salt water, which contained some oxygen.

“I knew Pearly well. If you could pick anyone to be your grandfather, he’d be the one. He was a gentleman in every sense,” said Felso.

Bernie F. Thompson, known simply as Juicy, was an aircraft gunner on the USS Bunkerhill. “His nickname was Juicy because of his deadly precision. After leaving the battle with the Japanese, the flight group returned to find the ship burning. They were forced to land aboard another nearby vessel, after the danger had passed. Miraculously, the Bunker Hill was able to return to port, though it had taken heavy damage and casualty.

Felso knew both men personally, and said that connection was just one of the inspirations to organize this lunch.

Non-military guests are asked for an $8 donation and reservations are suggested by calling 305-852-1872. Transportation for handicap vets and others will be provided by Monroe County Transportation, passengers must be registered, if they are not already. Call 305-292-4424.

Japanese foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, signed the surrender to Allied supreme Commander Douglas McArthur aboard the USS Missouri, following the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Emperor Hirohito made the order to surrender days after the two atom bombs killed at least 120,000 Japanese.



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