Sometimes the full impact of an American holiday is revealed by experiencing it outside of America. That was the case for many Pacific Partnership 2011 (PP11) volunteers and service members who attended the American Memorial Day ceremony at the War Memorial in Lae, Papua New Guinea on May 30. As noted in previous PP11 articles, World War II is ever-present in these islands, though veterans of that conflict, including non-combatants, are fast disappearing.
World War II was a conflict that clearly changed the geography and future of the world. Yet, the Pacific Campaign, so vital in the history and development of the United States, remains strangely underappreciated. A significant factor may be the reticence of members of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" to reminisce about their experiences.
The U.S. Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) continues to excavate World War II crash sites throughout the Pacific Islands in an effort to bring closure for families who have long awaited word of their missing loved ones' final resting places. Thousands of combatants remain entombed in their ships, many in Iron Bottom Sound, off the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor is perhaps the most visited sunken memorial which honors American service members. The serene memorial high over Iron Bottom Sound in Honiara, Guadalcanal, hosts ever fewer returning veterans and families on America's Memorial Day, and on each August 7, Guadalcanal Day. There is a bronze plaque in the entry of the American Embassy in Port Moresby, installed in 1992 by the American Battle Monument Commission. It reads in part, "This monument is dedicated in humble tribute to the legacy of freedom secured for generations yet to come by those who fought for the allied cause."
I recently read an op-ed piece placed by some World War II veterans, spouses and family members, which suggested creating "Living Memorials" built on human contact and friendship, to retain the bonds forged in the crucible of World War II, and honor the descendents of all the islanders who fought and suffered and assisted our soldiers. Pacific Partnership strives to do that in the region, as does the Loloma Foundation out of San Diego, which is dedicated to improving health care in the Solomon Islands. These efforts are a very personal way to reconnect and recommit to our history in the South Pacific.