When Julian Plaster arrived in the South Pacific early in 1944 with the U.S. Navy, he was assigned a grim task—the burial of both American and Japanese troops killed following fierce island invasions. He was busy that month, as nearly 400 U.S. troops were killed in four days in the Battle of Kwajalein just before he arrived. Only 51 of the original 3,500 Japanese defenders lived.
Now 89, Plaster helps send fellow World War II Veterans to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, built to honor their service and sacrifice. His group, Stars & Stripes Honor Flight, is a node in the Honor Flight Network, which has sent over 100,000 WWII Vets to Washington free of charge.
Plaster joined a group of WWII Vets for a special ceremony at the memorial last Friday, on the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The gray and chilly afternoon didn’t keep people away, and a throng of supporters gathered to hear a few words on the significance of December 7, 1941 seven decades later. The group then relocated for a reception and dinner, followed by a screening of the documentary film Honor Flight.
Plaster said it was his second time at the memorial, where he discovers something new every time.
“It just opens up like a flower,” he said, with a fountain at the center of an expanse surrounded by over 50 pillars representing U.S. states and territories, including two arches signifying the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. “It’s just overwhelming to be here.”
A few WWII Veterans in attendance suggested the memorial will remain significant for future generations of Veterans, who may not realize the totality of suffering and sacrifice a generation endured until a monument is built in their honor, buttressed with the emotion and pride that follow service during a conflict.
For Plaster, he saw each of the 4,048 gold stars lined on a wall—each representing 100 Americans killed in the war—as a tangible reminder of the staggering cost of peace.
“They paid for it,” Plaster said of his fallen comrades. “It really hits you. It’s our duty now to remember.”