HATFIELD – World War II veteran David Dilks embarks on a historic journey. The 95-year-old Hatfield resident traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii on Friday to attend Pearl Harbor’s 80th anniversary.
“Oh my god, it’s an honor, an honor,” Dilks said in an interview last week.
Dilks said he learned about the Forever Young Veterans’ Trip of Honor program through his stepdaughter. He said she met an “agent” of the organization who then reached out to him.
Dilks added that this isn’t the first time he’s been on an honor trip. He traveled to the nation’s capital in October to help lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia.
Dilks had tears in his eyes as he described the experience.
“Well, there is complete silence while you are doing it and then they blew the faucets and all of us, well, I’m getting together now, there were four of us who pulled the wreath,” he said. “There was a Marine and two soldiers and me in the Navy and we all burst into tears.”
Now Dilks is on another trip with 13 other World War II veterans to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the attack on the US naval base in Hawaii. Veterans range from 94 to 99 years, according to Forever Young Veterans Founder and President Diane Hight.
Hight initially said they had some reservations about going to Pearl Harbor due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and “veteran age” concerns, but said her organization had “received a special invitation” to witness the historic milestone.
“I figured well, maybe I should at least ask them if they’re interested, and I was pretty surprised at how excited they were to be going for the 80th anniversary,” she said.
With about two months of planning time, representatives from the Memphis, Tennessee-based nonprofit got to work finding interested attendees and fundraising online to pay for veterans’ attendance.
According to a Facebook post from Forever Young Veterans, it costs nearly $ 3,000 per veteran to cover food, shelter, and transportation.
“We think they have done enough for our country and it is time to give them back, so we’re collecting money to pay for their way … it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Hight. âWe paid for everything. It’s … everyone comes together to give back to the greatest generation. So there are just a lot of people who really love and appreciate these men and just want to thank them for everything they have done for freedom. “
The Pearl Harbor honor trip began Friday when the 14 veterans left for Hawaii from around the country. Along with Dilks, Michael Grieco Sr., 95, of Philadelphia, and Richard Schimmel, a 99-year-old survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack who lives in Allentown, complete the Pennsylvania emergency.
Dilks looked forward to meeting people in uniform and exchanging stories before traveling around the country.
“It’s just about meeting the vets … and talking to them,” he said.
Dilks was a youth in the Spring City and Royersford area when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
âI was in high school … 15 years old and it was amazing. We used to have war exercises before you knew anything was going to happen. But we didn’t know where, âhe said.
Dilks recalled, “In high school, I was a plane-spotter” and I “looked for overflying planes” during war exercises.
âWe knew that sooner or later we would go to war. At least that’s how I felt, âhe said.
Dilks was 17 when he joined the US Navy.
When asked why he decided to take part, he replied with a smile: “Because it was like that” [my] patriotic duty. “
Dilks was one of four children, three of whom fought in World War II. His two older brothers served in the US Army and the US Marine Corps, and his brother-in-law was a Navy officer.
âIt was tough for my mother,â he recalls.
Dilks was stationed aboard the USS Battleship Massachusetts in several locations in the Pacific, including Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Philippines.
“We’d go in and bomb before the landings,” Dilks said, adding, “It was pretty, pretty exciting.”
While “we were exposed to multiple air strikes,” Dilks said he could never remember being scared.
âI was 17 and 18 years old, and you really aren’t afraid. You know it’s … OK, let’s kick them in the butt, âhe said with a laugh.
Dilks had a special memory that he had remembered when his comrades saw the 1943 classic “Stage Coach Canteen” while he was stationed on an atoll called Ulithi. He said a Japanese airplane “flew so low over us and we couldn’t hear the movie”. The plane âwent into a carrier right next to usâ.
“So when there was an explosion on the island we knew, OK, let’s go to the combat stations, which we did,” Dilks said. “When things settled down, we crazy guys wanted to go back and show the movie.”
When asked if he saw victims during World War II, Dilks said, âFortunately my ship did not. We lost some in accidents, you know, but not in gunshots. “
After serving in World War II, Dilks was in the U.S. Navy’s reserves until he was recalled for use in the Korean War. He said he was “stationed on an Earl K. Olsen DE765 destroyer escort” and served until 1955.
Dilks recalled that his homecoming had changed over a period of 10 years.
âIt was a pleasure and at that time we were greeted. Not like Vietnam and Koreans [wars]. People booed us, âhe said.
After 10 years of service, Dilks worked 30 years at a factory in Oaks, where he worked his way up to manager.
Dilks is also involved in local veteran organizations such as the VFW and the Hatfield American Legion.
Alongside a collage of family photos, medals hang on the wall in the hallway of the house of him and his wife Barb in Hatfield. Barb and David presented a special shirt and hat that Forever Young Veterans had given him for his trip to Washington, DC.
Highly stressed that a number of things are planned for the six-day trip, including an island tour, a visit to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Battleship Row, Punchbowl National Cemetery, and the USS Missouri. But the trip culminates in veterans’ participation in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade
“So this day is going to be very, very special,” said Hight.
“There is something fulfilling for them to remember those who gave everything to our country and that is really the driving force behind their return to these places,” said Hight. âI think it’s mainly a return to remember those who didn’t come home, but also just to have a ceremony like this that our country will remember. It means so much to them and they are very grateful when people have not forgotten the sacrifice. “
And for Dilks, this trip has a special purpose.
âIt’s just heartbreaking. it lets you see what happened over there and why it happened, and you honor the guys who didn’t come back from there … it’s to honor them, âhe said.