World War II vets leave for "Friendship Tour" in Japan - - The News for South Mississippi

World War II vets leave for "Friendship Tour" in Japan


The world was a different place70 years ago when America and Japan were at war. From the looks on the faces of the veterans Wednesday morning at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, those memories are long forgotten, replaced with something else for veteran Ernest Pain.

"To be able to be so friendly with them, it's going to be absolutely great. I'm looking forward to it," Pain said.

For some veterans, like Byron Dennis, it's a chance to make new friends.

"I spent the whole war on the same old ship. When she went to Japan at the end of the war, I was in the hospital so I didn't get to go. So after 65 years I'm going," Byron explained.

Dennis' wife, Bettylu, is also a veteran making the trip.

"I'm honored, and it's a privilege because I'm going to represent the WAVES that served in World War II," said Bettylu.

Their daughter, Lou Ellen Latham, is coming along as well.

"I'm just going to make sure they get everywhere they want to go, and I'm just fascinated that I'm going to be able to watch them and their interaction and their reaction to what's over there," Latham explained.

While the trip for these World War II veterans will mostly be a fun affair, it is also going to be a learning experience. An experience that was learned some 70 years ago when the two countries were at war, according to Susan Bergman with the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

"Well, the first day we'll be in Tokyo, and we'll go to the national Diet, and the idea is to form a discussion and a meeting on a world or globe without nuclear weapons," Bergman said. "Then we'll head on to tours of Tokyo, and then we hit the bullet train and we go to Hiroshima and meet with the city council there."

The veterans' humble nature shines brightly when they talk about this trip. One of them is Paul Hoffer.

"I'm 92-years-old and I never expected such an honor as this, to be able to go to Japan. I didn't get there during the war. I was in the south Pacific islands. I was in the Marine Corp," Hoffer recalled.

Now, as the jet takes off, it's time to make new memories that will never fade away.

While in Japan, the veterans will play a game of softball with their Japanese counterparts. The "Friendship Tour" lasts six days, with the veterans coming home to Gulfport early next week.

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