WAHIAWA, Hawaii – Civilians and current and former service members alike came to celebrate and honor those who served during the Veterans Day parade, here, Nov. 11.
The band, color guard and Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division, “Topic Lightning,” along with the Hawaii National Guard, 324th Intelligence Squadron, and numerous civilian organizations, marched in the parade.
Veterans Day was once called Armistice Day, in recognition of the “war to end all wars” at the end of the First World War, 97 years ago, on Nov. 11, 1918. However, it would not be the last war to engulf the globe as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan plunged the world into another devastating war.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Polito “Paul” Olivas entered the service in September 1940, at the age of 22, a year prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The spry 97-year-old veteran, now residing in nearby Mililani, was one of three grand marshals during the parade hosted by the Wahiawa Lions Club.
“It’s great to be honored and respected,” Olivas said.
He went on to state he was first assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, but was later reassigned to a new rigorous job in the Army.
“In 1943, I went airborne and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division,” he said.
He was part of the Normandy invasion of France in June 1944, jumping near Saint-Lô and being separated from his unit for three days during the intense and chaotic fighting.
Again, the paratrooper was in the thick of it against the German Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS during the Battle of the Bugle in the fierce winter of the same year in Luxemburg and Belgium.
After the war, while many had been released out of the Army, Olivas stayed in and was later stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Not wanting to stay behind a desk, he jumped at a unique opportunity that was presented to him.
“In 1952, they had a unit visit us to start psy war,” he began, in reference to the Army’s first psychological operations unit. “I was told they came here to start psy war.”
He was instantly accepted and went on to become one of the original members of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), where he went on to use his skills in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Olivas retired in 1970, ending a remarkable 30-year career with the Army with more than 300 airborne jumps, two Combat Jump Stars, and a Combat Infantry Badge with three stars.
Another World War II veteran participating in the parade, Robert Honke, rode in a trolley, waving at the cheering crowd.
“I am honored in being able to participate in the parade,” he said, humbly. “It’s very exciting to see all the people participating. It’s very good to be here.”
Honke, 94, served in one of the forgotten theaters of the war, the China-Burma-India Theater, as a Japanese translator.
“I went to the Japanese language school at Camp Savage, Minnesota,” he said.
Camp Savage was home to a Military Intelligence Service language school during the war. The sole purpose was to teach Japanese language for MIS.
He went on to serve in all three namesake countries of the theater, he continued. He interrogated Japanese prisoners inside Free China.
One of the younger veterans, Spc. John Syler, marched with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID, during the parade.
Syler, an infantry and a native of Niangua, Missouri, said he took great pride in joining the day’s celebration.
“It’s good out here participating with the community,” he said, “and having a presence out here to show everyone we care about the community and our veterans, past and present.”
This Veterans Day had a unique meaning for him.
“This is my first Veterans Day stateside,” he said. “Before this, I was prior service Marine Corps and spent most of my time deployed. It’s a good feeling to be home and being out here participating.”
The overwhelming support of the surrounding community greatly struck him.
“It’s pretty impressive to see the turn out for the parade,” he said, “especially for a small community that Wahiawa is. It’s impressive to see the public support.”