Union Democrat reporter Guy McCarthy will accompany Mother Lode veterans on the Honor Flight trip next week. Check our website www.uniondemocrat.com, Facebook, twitter, instagram and, of course, our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday newspapers for his reports and photos.
Hal Mayo said he’s never been to Washington, D.C., and the last time Chester ‘Ski’ Biernacki visited the nation’s capital was back in 1980.
Next week, the two 95-year-old veterans of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor will leave their homes in Tuolumne County to travel to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. The memorial opened in late April 2004.
The fountains, pillars, plaques, arches and plaza of the memorial are intended to honor 16 million who served in U.S. armed forces during World War II, more than 400,000 who died, and millions who supported the war effort from home. The memorial stands between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. It’s overseen by the National Park Service.
On that day more than 75 years ago, Mayo was a Navy crew chief assigned to a PBY Catalina flying boat used for anti-submarine patrol. He was stationed at Kaneohe Bay on southeast Oahu, where a first wave of Japanese Zeros tried to wipe out all the planes at the American airfield.
Biernacki was a shell man assigned to one of the 6-inch, 47-caliber Mark 16 gun turrets on board the USS Helena, which was in Pearl Harbor on the south side of Oahu and was damaged during the attack. He remembers going topdeck to smoke a Chesterfield and hearing the alert, “All hands man battle stations. This is not a drill.”
Mayo said he graduated with 30 to 40 young men in the class of 1939 at Herkimer High School before he joined the Navy. Most of his classmates chose to enlist with the National Guard and ended up in Europe.
“Three or four of us survived the war,” Mayo said. “We never had class reunions.”
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Biernacki had come from New Bedford, Mass., and boot camp at Newport, Rhode Island. He stayed in the Navy 20 years, until 1960. He returned to Pearl Harbor in 1956 and in December 2016 for the 75th anniversary of the attack.
“I never wanted to go back,” Biernacki said in early December. “I had no interest. I had a lot of buddies who died there.”
Today, Mayo is a resident of Groveland and Biernacki lives in Jamestown. They met in March. Next week they will go to D.C. and visit the memorial that honors their WWII service thanks to the nonprofit Central Valley Honor Flight.
In all, 67 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War era veterans from will fly from Fresno to Baltimore-Washington International Airport early Monday morning and stay near the Mall.
They’ll visit the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, the World War II Memorial on the Mall, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
On their return to Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Wednesday they will be recognized in a Welcome Home procession.
Mayo, Biernacki and their fellow travelers to D.C. come from 10 California counties and range in age from 62 to 96. There are three women and 64 men, representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the Army Air Corps/Air Force. Seven served in World War II, 59 in Korea, and is a Vietnam War veteran battling a terminal diagnosis, according to Central Valley Honor Flight staff.
Included on the trip next week are Donald “Pappy” Faulkner, 82, of Sonora, an Army veteran who served during the Korean War, and Dennis Smith, 82, of Groveland, an Air Force veteran who served during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Among Stanislaus County veterans going is Roy Haury, 84, of Patterson, who grew up sixth of 12 kids in Putnam, Oklahoma. He became a sharpshooter at age 14 when a World War II veteran showed him how to hit a matchstick in a tree. He joined the Marine Corps and became a sniper with the 1st Marine Division, spending 13 months in Korea.
His oldest brother, Marvin Ray Haury, was killed in the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
Asked about their plans next week, Mayo and Biernacki said Wednesday they are looking forward to the trip.
“Last time I was in D.C. was a long time ago, on my way to my mom’s funeral in Massachusetts,” Biernacki said.
Mayo said he’s curious.
“ I’ve never been to Washington,” Mayo said. “No, I’m not excited. I’m going to see what it’s all about anyway.”
No one is sure exactly how many American military Pearl Harbor survivors are still alive. Richard Hugen, of Arvada, Colorado, is with the Sons and Daughters Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and he estimates there are fewer than 70. Other researchers estimate there may be as many as one thousand.
Members of Central Valley Honor Flight say they are dedicated to honoring World War II veterans and Korean War veterans by sending them to see their memorials in Washington, D.C. Formed in May 2013, the all-volunteer group has helped more than 750 veterans and their travel guardians journey to the nation’s capital on a dozen different trips.