Each veteran and military personnel had their reasons for being at the Oregon National Guard Armory in Pendleton Saturday.
The National Guard partnered with the Pendleton Air Museum to organize the Doolittle Raiders Gala, a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the air raids on Japan during World War II led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, and featuring 80 soldiers based in Pendleton.
The gala was a day-long affair that featured vendors, a display with World War II-era weapons and equipment, and military planes and vehicles from both World War II and modern day.
Ron Gonshorowski sat on a bench across from the “Heavenly Body” B-25 bomber flown from Madras to the National Guard air field specifically for the event.
Along with his dog Rhys, Gonshorowski traveled from his home in Dallas, Oregon, on a fact-finding mission.
A veteran of the Vietnam War who served with 22nd Tactical Air Support Squadron, the Gonshorowski said he’s been researching whether he’s related to Bill Farrow, a Doolittle raider who was killed after being captured by the Japanese.
While Gonshorowski’s quest goes on, he arranged to fly in the “Heavenly Body” Sunday morning.
The “Heavenly Body,” a mural of a woman in a one-piece swimsuit and cape diving through the air painted on its side, became front and center when the National Guard did a wreath laying ceremony later that afternoon.
As a F-15 fighter jet flew over head and the National Guard honored the Army Air Corps’ 17th Bombardment Squadron, Staff Sgt. Armondo Borboa of Oregon National Guard 3-116 CAV Battalion explained the story of the Doolittle Raiders.
As a response to Pearl Harbor, the Army arranged a one-way bombing mission on April 18 over Japan.
Although the mission didn’t inflict significant damage to Japan, it was meant as a signal that the enemy wasn’t immune to retaliation.
The raids came at a cost — eight men were killed in action or executed as prisoners of war, while many others were tortured and starved throughout the length of the war.
The wreath ceremony also came with accolades for the raiders, with tributes and awards from Pendleton Mayor John Turner, himself a former Marine, and representatives from state Sen. Bill Hansell, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and the Oregon Spirit of ‘45, an organization that honors those that fought in World War II.
Helping present a Congressional Gold Medal to the raiders, Evan Hassel, a member of the National Guard and a veterans advocate for Wyden’s office, talked about the effect World War II has on modern-day soldiers.
“Having served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, I can say that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of our Greatest Generation still cast huge shadows,” he said. “Every day I spent in uniform — and now as a public servant — I sought and still endeavor to follow their sterling example, to be worthy of the world they gave us.”
The history of World War II and the Doolittle Raiders also had an impact on Martin Nelson, a lieutenant colonel with the 3-116 CAV Battalion.
In a speech, Nelson recalled growing up in Pendleton and driving his motorcycle among the remnants of the air base before growing up to realize the significance of Pendleton’s role in the war.
Another Pendleton native, Bob Stangier, actually played a significant role in the war.
He was one of the few World War II vets at the event, flying 70 bombing missions while stationed in Corsica and Italy.
Stangier piloted a B-25, the same model as the “Heavenly Body,” and remembers it as a reliable if clamorous plane.
“It was as noisy as it could be,” he said. “That’s why I need hearing aids.”
Stangier said he liked Saturday’s event and was glad to see another World War II tribute after the Pendleton Air Museum discontinued its Bombs Away Ball fundraiser.
Borboa said the gala’s future depends on whether the National Guard decides to continue to support it.
Taking a break from coordinating the event while propping his foot on a chair, the staff sergeant explained that the National Guard was shifting its focus to include more community interaction.
Although men and women in uniform weren’t hard to find on Saturday, Borboa said the National Guard’s participation in the event would have been greatly reduced if Congress hadn’t passed a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded on Friday.
Despite skirting disaster, the gala seemed to achieve some success.
Attendance for the daytime event ranged between 1,000 and 3,000 people, depending on different organizers’ estimates.
More than 300 tickets were sold for the dinner and entertainment portion of the gala, with proceeds going toward the Pendleton Air Museum and its goal of building a permanent museum.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.