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Navy Veteran Mel surrounded by family and service men and women in uniforms after arriving to Pearl Harbor

Mel Returns to Pearl Harbor

When he was just 17 years old, Mel was determined to support the war effort and made the life-changing decision to enlist in the Navy.

“I delivered the Sunday Philadelphia newspaper, and the headlines constantly talked about a man named Adolf Hitler who was waging war in Europe,” he explained. “They said the same thing every week: He Took One More Country. So, I knew the United States was going to go to war. I figured I may as well join the service now and get an early start.”

Mel was appointed to serve as an aviation mechanic, and he dreamed of becoming a pilot someday. On the morning of December 7, 1941, a superior told Mel that he would be moved from his post to be a firefighter for a 24-hour rotation of duty.

Shortly after arriving at the fire station, Mel recalls seeing a plane flying extremely low overhead. He even ducked inside, fearful that the plane’s propellers would clip the roof. And just minutes later, that plane dropped one of the first bombs on Pearl Harbor, hitting a hangar just a few hundred yards away.

The rest of the day was a blur as Mel clung to the back of a fire truck and helped extinguish the numerous fires around the base. He remained on duty for days, putting out fires, digging trenches, and helping with body recovery. It was dangerous, shocking, and strenuous work, and he sustained injuries to his legs, back, and arms.

“The doctor told me to go to the swimming pool and put some water on the injuries… and while I was there, to take a drink of water,” Mel recalled. “He said, ‘There is not enough chlorine in there to kill you, but there’s enough water to keep you from dehydration.’”

Mel spent nearly two weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. But that day’s physical and emotional impact stayed with Mel, even 75 years later.

Mel spent five years after the attack working his way up from a 2nd Class Aviation Machinist’s Mate to being sponsored for the Officer Candidate School. By 1944, he had earned his Navy Wings and Commission. And in 1946, at the rank of Ensign, he retired to civilian life and focused on taking care of his family.

After retiring from service, Mel took every opportunity to share his experiences and educate youth about WWII history. He also became the Wyoming Pearl Harbor Survivors Association President.

When Wish of a Lifetime heard Mel’s story, we were honored to recognize Mel’s service and sacrifices by helping him return to the place that held such immense meaning in his life. We put the wheels in motion to help Mel return to Pearl Harbor, accompanied by his family and grandsons.

Before the trip, Mel’s family members commented on how much his energy levels and health had improved, fueled by his motivation to return to Pearl Harbor.

“I was a part of that history, and it was important for me to be there for the 75th Anniversary of the attack,” Mel said, regarding the significant timing of his wish.

In December of 2016, Mel stepped foot again on the beaches of Pearl Harbor, this time at age 93. He and his family attended a moving ceremony recognizing the 75th Anniversary of the attacks. Mel was honored and recognized by many people throughout his visit, and it was a significant experience on many levels. Mel finally had the opportunity to visit the USS Arizona Memorial and pay his respects to the thousands of heroes who lost their lives on that day in our nation’s history.

“It was a necessary trip; a worthwhile trip,” Mel said. And having his family by his side made Mel’s experience even more meaningful. “My children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren… it was amazing having everyone there,” he said. “I wanted to pass this history along to them… so everybody knows what happened at Pearl Harbor.”

After returning from Hawaii, Mel and his family were full of gratitude for their wish experience.

“It’s almost impossible to say thank you for all of the preparation that went into my wish,” he said. “I would like to express my thanks to Wish of a Lifetime…Your encouragement and guidance were so much appreciated.”

“This was wonderful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I couldn’t have done it without Wish of a Lifetime,” Mel said.

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