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WWII Vets Defy Virus Fears, Prepare To Mark 75th Anniversary of War's End

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Several dozen U.S. veterans, including some who were in Tokyo Bay as swarms of warplanes buzzed overhead and nations converged to end World War II, will gather on a battleship in Pearl Harbor next month to mark the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

The 75th anniversary was meant to be a blockbuster event, and the veterans have been looking forward to it for years.

There were to be thousands of people taking part in the festivities in Hawaii, with parades marching through Waikiki, vintage warbirds flying overhead and gala dinners to honor the veterans.

Now, most in-person celebrations have been canceled due to the pandemic.

But about 200 people — mostly veterans, their families and government officials — will still commemorate the milestone on the USS Missouri, which hosted the surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay.

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“I’ve been told what I need to do in order to be responsible for myself but also toward others,” said WWII veteran Jerry Pedersen, who was aboard the USS Missouri and watched the Japanese surrender.

“I can’t hug the people that I’d like to hug.”

Pedersen, who will be coming from Sacramento, California, for the commemoration, turned 95 on Wednesday.

“No, I’m not concerned particularly,” he said.

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Pedersen said he reflects on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s words “that we’ve got to pursue in peace what we won in war. And I made a decision that day that I wanted to be a peace worker. And my life has been that.”

Pedersen became a pastor after the war.

The veterans will board a flight reserved just for them from Oakland to Honolulu.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, who specializes in infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, said that ensuring the aging veterans know the risk of infection is important. “As long as people have the information … that’s all I can really hope for.”

But taking into account why these men want to attend the ceremony is also important, he said.

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“For somebody who may not live to see the next anniversary … the risk benefit calculus becomes a little bit different,” Chin-Hong said.

“I feel like sometimes in these settings, you think about risk and benefit in different ways.”

Once in Hawaii, the veterans will be isolated in hotels except when attending mostly outdoor events with health screenings and social distancing. The public is not invited, and workers will be continuously screened.

WWII veteran Art Albert, who had come to Hawaii for every commemoration, had promised loved ones that he would make it to the 75th anniversary. But he died in June.

“Somehow, he and the Missouri just connected. Every year as we neared Ford Island, his eyes would fill with tears as he saw what he called his ‘first home,'” Albert’s wife, Sherry, said by email, referring to the USS Missouri.

Michael Carr, president and CEO of the USS Missouri Memorial Association, which operates the battleship museum, was friends with Albert.

Of the veterans, he said that “despite the travel restrictions, despite the pandemic dangers, they are determined to be here.”

As of Wednesday, about 60 veterans, each with one companion, were set to attend.

Hawaii is expected to grant modified quarantine orders for those traveling for the anniversary, allowing them to attend the official ceremony and other events. Otherwise, people coming to the islands are required to quarantine for two weeks.

Gov. David Ige’s office said this week that the details are still under review but that the state will do everything possible to ensure the veterans are safely honored.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other senior U.S. officials plan to attend the events at Pearl Harbor.

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