On December 7, 1941, my father was a handsome, lanky 18 year old enjoying the new film Babes on Broadway starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. He was a typical New York City kid who loved to sing, so an afternoon off from working at the family bakery to enjoy a musical with friends was nothing short of heavenly until someone ran down into the front of the theater to shout out the hellish news of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Like many youngsters of that time, Harold William Golde knew about what was happening in Europe and how England was starting to buckle under the incessant attacks by Nazi Germany. Harold (“Hal” to his friends) had been reading the newspaper accounts about hundreds of German warplanes bombing London for 57 straight nights in attacks that would continue until May 1941. More than 40,000 people would die in the Blitz as Londoners call the air raid campaign. But the United States had remained neutral, not wanting to get involved in another war; the trauma from WWI still prominent.
War in the Pacific
A day later, the United States declared war on Japan and Hal went to the recruiting office to sign up as a pilot in the Army Air Corp. After initial testing showed he was color blind, he was instead assigned to the 40th Infantry Division, Mechanized Calvary, where he shipped off to basic training and then on to Hawaii and Schofield Barracks, near Pearl Harbor, where he would endure jungle training before joining his outfit in the Pacific Theatre.
Hal would eventually be assigned to General MacArthur’s forces as a radioman and later as chaplain’s assistant, a role he found true purpose in during the liberation of the Philippines in October 1944. Hal’s father Fred was a huge supporter of “Mack” and was very proud that his oldest son was serving with the famous 5 star General. Fred would pass away while Hal was still serving in the South Pacific and would not get to see his son in the background of the famous “I Have Returned” photo. When MacArthur stood on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, and accepted the surrender of Japan, it made a lasting impression on Hal, still in the Army but finally heading home.
A Hero Returns Home
Hal would return to New York and marry his high school sweetheart Mary Patricia Zarth, who he had promised to wed if he survived the war. Two daughters and twin sons later, Hal moved his family to California and began the rest of his life as husband and father. Years later, Hal and Mary retired to the mountains near Lake Tahoe and later, settled in Ogden, Utah near his son Ricky (I was still in California). In January 2013, Mary passed away and shortly after, Hal found out about the new Treeo retirement community being built in South Ogden and was one of the first residents to move in. It is at Treeo that Hal found out about the Executive Salute to Veterans Cruise organized by Travel by Leisure Care and taking place on November 4 –11, 2017.
Hal had been invited by Honor Flight a few years earlier to see the WW II Memorial in Washington, DC and oldest (by twenty minutes) son Ricky won the coin toss to be his “guardian” during the visit, where Hal had been presented with a special cap prominently emblazoned with “World War II Veteran.” It is a cap he has worn proudly since and it figured significantly in his return to Hawaii 75 years later. No coin toss needed this time as his youngest son, yours truly, made claim to accompany Hal on his own “I shall return” to Hawaii, as it was on Dad’s short Bucket List for a long time.
Back to Hawaii with Travel by Leisure Care
Contacting Carol Dennis of Travel by Leisure Care started the ball rolling and we soon had flights to Honolulu and a stateroom on the NCL Pride of America booked. All we had to do was pack our suitcases with some beach attire and wait for the departure day to arrive. A 6-hour non-stop flight from Salt Lake City to Honolulu and suddenly, Hal was back in Hawaii, 75 years later. Clint Fowler, Guest Services Director of Leisure Care and his wife Lisa became the consummate hosts right from the start as we attended a beachfront reception upon arriving at the hotel. The next day, we boarded the Pride of America and settled in for our 7-day cruise, culminating at Pearl Harbor for Veteran’s Day.
Hal is almost 95 years old and nearly blind from macular degeneration but that doesn’t stop him from living independently at Treeo. He can still stand and walk just fine, albeit with a cane for assurance and for short distances (after all, he did smoke cigarettes for 60 years, starting with the Chesterfields he found in his K rations). Hal is now well known by fellow Treeo residents for hitching rides in vintage aircraft or riding on the back of motorcycles. It doesn’t stop him from flying over the Pacific Ocean and boarding a ship to wander the Hawaiian Islands, although I must admit I had a hand in making his cruise a rather eventful and memorable one.
Every night we would “set sail” and in the morning, wake up with a new island to explore. Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii were ours to see with shore excursions to beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls and one of my favorites, the traditional luau and Polynesian history show, featuring fire dancers and hula girls that told a tale of the original Hawaiian people and how they sailed across the Pacific in canoes to discover these magical islands. Dad’s longtime love affair with the Ford Mustang was satisfied as I rented the convertible Mustang and we cruised along the North Shore of Kauai to hang out at Hanalei Bay and enjoy fish tacos and beer on the warm sand. We even rented a Jeep to brave the narrow serpentine Road to Hana on the island of Maui and picked a very appreciative young hitchhiker along the way. Don’t try that at home, kids!
Traveling with a Veteran
Traveling with my father is always interesting in that the reactions from people range from absolute indifference to weeping pleas to hug him. It is this observation that stayed with me the most as I set sail with this man who was Corporal Harold W. Golde in 1942. Pushing Dad in the wheelchair around the ship and on our shore excursions gave me an interesting perspective since I had to look forward and see how approaching people would react to a very old man in a wheelchair. Dad did not always wear his hats (the other was a “U.S. Veteran” cap) but it was a generational thing that determined their reaction.
When Baby Boomers saw Dad with one of his hats on, they would almost reverently approach and quietly say “thank you for your service”, then take their leave. Sometimes Dad might not hear them (damn hearing aid batteries!) but if he did, he would mostly reply “We did what we had to do.” Some would ask what branch of service and when Dad answered, that often started a heartwarming chat about their father or uncle or husband. And if it was a fellow veteran that stood before us, Dad and I would respond “and thank you for your service.” One lovely lady approached Dad and I at the Volcanoes National Park overlook and she thanked him, then asked, almost reluctantly but with an obviously emotional need, “Can I please hug you?” She said, holding back tears, that Dad reminded her of her father, also a veteran, who had passed away a few years ago.
Teens and millennials rarely acknowledge Dad, being so self-absorbed with faces buried in their all-important electronic devices. It is definitely a generation gap but then again we have seen school children treat Dad like he was Justin Bieber while visiting the WW II Memorial. They obviously had a really great teacher who prepared them to properly visit this important place with reverence and respect. They crowded around Dad to pose for photos and yes, they thanked him for his service!
While Dad and I enjoyed our time on the Pride of America, we were honored by the ship’s officers with an invitation to join them for dinner. Someone had noticed Dad with his hat on and that apparently doesn’t happen very often. Long story short, Troy Potter, the Chief Environmental Engineer, had recently retired from the U.S. Navy at a ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri, then started a second career with the cruise line. Troy had heard from one of the dining room staff that Dad had served with MacArthur and so the connection was made. The dinner was fabulous with great food but the conversation was the pièce de résistance and the 3 plus hours with the officers was capped off with a visit from Captain Ron and his young son. Dad certainly enjoyed the experience and ate every morsel of the scrumptious carrot cake served for dessert!
Another highlight of the cruise was an invitation by John and Cynthia Zerb, two of our Travel by Leisure Care group, to a final night cocktail party at their beautiful suite, one of the largest on the ship. We enjoyed the amazing sunset views along the Na Pali coast on a huge private deck and posed for a group photo, with our two veterans, Hal and John front, and center.
The last living U.S. World War I veteran was Frank Buckles who died in 2011 at age 110. Approximately 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive today but they are dying at a rate of about 550 per day. It is estimated that by 2036, there will be no living veterans of World War II left to recount their experiences. The important historical experiences of our WW II veterans are being preserved by an excellent Library of Congress effort called Veterans History Project, of which Hal was a participant while visiting the Palms Springs Air Museum in 2016 for his birthday.
Trouble in Pearl Harbor Results in Change of Policy
The weather cooperated beautifully on the cruise right up until we left the ship on Veterans Day to visit Pearl Harbor, the part of our adventure that Dad had been most looking forward to. We left the rental wheelchair behind and Dad climbed the steep stairs into the bus and had a seat at the front, reserved for the handicapped. We expected wheelchairs to be available at Pearl Harbor as the ship’s excursion desk had repeatedly assured us of. But when we arrived, the bus driver advised otherwise; no wheelchairs are available at Pearl Harbor Visitors Center, except for emergencies. The walk to the transit bus stop to the USS Missouri was about a quarter mile and Dad had no choice but to walk the distance.
In the tropics, it can rain, and it started just as we arrived at the USS Missouri. The fact that we had not once thought of needing umbrellas until now was ironic. The USS Missouri is located at Ford Island, managed by the US Navy, under the Department of Defense and the ship itself is managed by the USS Missouri Memorial Association, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation. They offer free wheelchairs for use by handicapped persons and ramps and elevator allow very good access to the ships many decks. I took Dad toward the bow on the main deck and he looked over the short distance to USS Arizona Memorial, straining his weak eyes to make out the curved white structure hovering over the sunken battleship filled with the remains of the 948 men who remain entombed in the wreckage. Dad said, “Let’s go see my heroes.”
We reboarded the transit bus for the short ride back to the Visitors Center and found that there was another long walk across the grounds to where the USS Arizona shuttle boats depart. We had 15 minutes to get there for our scheduled departure and Dad was already tired. I asked the National Parks Ranger on duty why there weren’t any wheelchairs and he stated that there is one but for emergencies only. I suggested that if my 94-year-old WW II veteran father tried to walk the long distance and fell, cracking his skull open, would that qualify us to use the wheelchair? His answer was “Yes, we would consider that an emergency.” Amazing.
Not wanting to risk injury to my father, we started the somewhat shorter walk back to the empty tour bus, where we remained for the next two hours. Dad missed his opportunity to fulfill a 75-year-old dream to pay his respects to those lost on the USS Arizona and elsewhere at Pearl Harbor that fateful Sunday. I used the time waiting on the bus to write to Norwegian Cruise Lines expressing my great disappointment in being misled about the availability of wheelchairs at the Visitors Center and my unbridled outrage at the National Park Service for not having any accommodations for handicapped visitors (especially WW II veterans!) other than a few concrete benches here and there and a filthy restroom with broken lavatory door.
Dad’s age is probably close to the average of those WW II veterans still alive today and he is more mobile than many but he still needed assistance. At a memorial that is so significant to the now elderly men and women that served so long ago, how can the National Parks Service not think to accommodate them when they come so far to visit? Well, if you think that my e-mail sent while sitting on the empty bus fell on deaf bureaucratic ears, think again. I am happy to report that just before this story went to print in Leisure Care’s LivFun magazine, I received a reply from Mr. Jason Blount, Chief of Interpretation and Education, WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument who advised the following:
After receiving your concern our management team has discussed this issue and we are currently pursuing a new policy that would make wheelchairs available to visitors with physical limitations while here at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. I understand changes that result from this new policy will be too late to impact your recent visit but am hopeful that they will make a positive impact on other visitors in the future. Thank you again for bringing this to our attention and thank you for your family’s service in the United States military.
The definition of “veteran” is simply “a former member of the armed forces, especially in war.” All veterans are important, from every branch of service, of any rank and in every campaign or in peacetime. It is my hope that the Executive Salute To Veterans Cruise continues and that more veterans can attend. I hope to return with Dad, a wheelchair at the ready so he can finally check the USS Arizona off his bucket list.
Aloha and bon voyage!
Authur: Paul Golde, son of Harold “Hal” William Golde, WWII Veteran.