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Vets visit Hawaii with Forever Young Senior Veterans

MADISON – Four senior veterans from Alabama traveled to Honolulu for a seven-day trip to revisit Pearl Harbor and other military sites.

Otis Brannon, John Kuhn, Billy Neal and Major Wooten joined 15 other veterans along with several volunteers from the Forever Young Senior Veterans organization. Many of these veterans served in the Pacific during World War II.

Forever Young Senior Veterans paid all trip expenses. The organization sponsors events and trips for veterans 65 years and older to bring memories, comfort and healing to the veterans that served in the country’s wars.

“In many cases, veterans experience great emotional moments and return home with a renewed spirit that may act as closure from some of the most intense aspects of war,” spokesperson Tom McKinney said. “Such was the case of Navy Boatswain’s Mate First Class John Kuhn on this trip.”

“John was determined to make the trip, even though he had some serious health issues before the trip that required hospitalizations and rehab sessions. John’s determination prevailed, and he joined the other Alabama veterans on the trip,” McKinney said. The group departed for Hawaii on May 3.

Kuhn’s service in World War II involved driving a Higgins Boat (troop landing craft) and delivering Marines to various beachheads where war was raging. “John spent as much as nine months out in the Pacific on the Higgins Boat. At one point, his armada was bombed for 32 straight nights,” McKinney said.

A particularly horrific incident occurred during the Invasion of Tarawa. “John’s boat hit a reef and stopped. The ramp deployed, and many of the charging Marines drowned because the water was too deep,” McKinney said.

“The landing at Tarawa was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II,” McKinney said. “The troops on the landing craft were fearful they could all be killed. John told them he would be back to bring them home.”

“Later, Kuhn, donned in Marine Corps gear and weaponry, went on the beach and helped bury the bodies,” he said. “John’s experience in Tarawa caused him recurring nightmares for 72 years.”

Today, Kuhn’s condition would be diagnosed as a symptom of PTSD.

On the current trip, Punchbowl Cemetery was their first destination. “Chris Batte, coordinator of Forever Young Senior Veterans of Alabama, engaged an official who explained he was on a project to exhume bodies from the Pacific islands, including Tarawa, and return those bodies to the Punchbowl for proper burial,” McKinney said.

The official and Kuhn eventually met. “John knew where the bodies were buried and identified via GPS the places on Tarawa where he and others buried the bodies,” McKinney said.

The official recounted that 20 bodies had been exhumed recently from Tarawa and returned to the Punchbowl. Bodies were wrapped in wool blankets before burial. Officials found evidence of those blankets when bodies were exhumed. “Those Marines did make it home to U.S. soil,” McKinney said.

Batte and the veterans witnessed a transformation for Kuhn during the trip. Batte asked Kuhn if knowing that the troops were returned to Punchbowl would help his nightmares. Kuhn said, “I dreamed about it last night but it wasn’t a nightmare.” 

“John Kuhn smiled, as did Chris and the other Alabama senior veterans making the trip,” McKinney said.

For more information or to donate, visit http://www.foreveryoungvets.org/alabama/.  

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