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Cape Coral, Florida, United States

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bratwurst and Beer with an American Hero

This issue of  Lightframe is dedicated to Don Irwin an American Hero.  Chance  places us at opportune moments in life.  Read on how our trip to Epcot turned into an opportune moment with an American Hero!

It was a hot July  morning at Epcot,
Viv and I had begun our journey at the French Pavilion in World Showcase earlier in the morning.  Our journey "around the world" continued to Japan and Morocco.  Lunchtime was just minutes away and we had made plans to have lunch at the German Pavilion feasting on the succulent bratwurst served there and quenching out thirst with some fine German beer.  It brought back memories of when we lived in Germany many years ago and we would look for those famous bratwurst stands in downtown Nuremberg.  We wanted to eat inside since it afforded us some cool air conditioned comfort and we could enjoy our feast.  Once inside noting that all tables were occupied I went in line and left Viv to pounce on a table once someone decided to leave.  As I stood in line a kind couple offered us to join them at their table. 

Geneva and Don
I picked up our delicious lunch and made my way to the table. I was introduced to Geneva and Don Irwin.  Geneva and Don hail from San Jose and were in Florida to participate at the 2013 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.  This years games were held in Tampa and they had decided to spend the day at Disneyworld as a follow up.  They plan each vacation year in conjunction with the games - supporting the many veterans including a family member who participates in these games.  Between bites of my bratwurst Vivian informs me that Don is a Pearl Harbor Veteran.  It was as if time stood still!  As an avid student of history I can recall almost every book I had read on Pearl Harbor, Midway and other Pacific War events; the personal accounts, the horrific events of the day and the subsequent result of a war in the Pacific that would entail thousands of young men and women  like Don to give the maximum sacrifice so that democracy would eventually proclaim victory. 

Don Irwin - An American Hero!

CV-6 USS Enterprise 1941
Don began telling his story.  On that fateful day in 1941, he was stationed on  USS Enterprise CV-6 the "Big E" one of the carriers that was stationed at Pearl Harbor.  By the grace of God, the carrier task force had been delayed by a storm in the Pacific so was not in port on that fateful December 7th morning.  An event that not doubt spared Don's life! The carriers were the main target of the Japanese fliers on that  morning.  Don recalls coming into Pearl Harbor late that night and leaving shortly thereafter to seek the  Japanese Fleet.  Don was 19 at the time.  Imagine yourself at 19 witnessing the carnage and devastation and knowing that life as you knew it would never be the same again,  After three years in the Navy, Don was now in for the  duration.  There was to be no going home for quite a while.

His time on the "Big E" placed him at the forefront of crucial  historical events.  On April 18th 1942 Don was on the USS Enterprise serving as flagship and escort to sister ship  USS Hornet.  From Hornet's deck brave pilots and crews were the "tip of the spear" delivering  the United States first response to the Empire of Japan.  Sixteen B25 bombers headed toward Japan to bomb Tokyo and other cities.  Also known as the Doolittle Raid, the action had repercussion on both sides of the Pacific.  Japan realized that it was still vulnerable from the onslaught of a Pacific Navy.  For the American people, after tragic losses at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Wake Island,  the raid raised American spirits and the message was that America was not down and out but fighting back.


USS Enterprise CV-6 En route to Midway 1942
The Doolittle Raid along with the Battle of the Coral Sea forced Japan to realize that a showdown with the Pacific Fleet was needed to seal victory in the Pacific. .  The result was the Battle of Midway - a plan by the Japanese Navy  to lure the remaining Pacific carrier task forces into a do or die battle.  With the help of naval intelligence, at Pearl Harbor, the plan was discovered and it was the "Big E" along with her sister ships the Yorktown and Hornet that were waiting in ambush for Yammato's fleet.  I listened transfixed as history became alive Don recalling the air strikes on the Japanese carriers as well as overcoming the numerous torpedo plane attacks on the Enterprise and escort ships. Again it was a time of carnage an death on a grand scale. All the books I had read on the subject did not compare to listening to this American Hero retell the events of that battle, the battle that turned the tide in the Pacific.  Japan lost four Class A carriers and would never again be an aggressor in the Pacific.  Still three long years would pass before victory was won.  Don saw action in the Solomon Islands all the way to Iwo Jima. 
US Enterprise CV-6 Battle of Midway 1942

I asked Don if he committed all of his exploits and experiences to paper.  He is planning on doing that.  I hope so because we need to tell the story again and again about these great heroes from the Greatest Generation.  Their youth was dedicated to service for their country, their youth was riddled with pain, death and struggle, their courage allowed them to "step up" and answer the call.  We owe so much to all these men and women who gave so much. We left Don and Geneva with a promise that we would spread the word about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.  The next Wheelchair Games will be in Philadelphia August 12-17, 2014.  The torch has been passed by Don and his shipmates to a new generation of veterans who have answered the call.  Let's support them.  And remember that freedom is never free!  God Bless Don, Geneva and all of America's veterans!

If you'd like more information on the National Veterans Wheelchair Games Association and how you can help.  Here is the link:  National Veterans Wheelchair Games

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