BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. – Harold B. Estes and many of his peers are part of a generation that is known as “The Greatest Generation.” Estes, a World War II veteran credited with helping bring the USS Missouri and Bowfin museums to Hawaii, and who gained Internet fame with a letter written to President Barack Obama telling him to “shape up and start acting like an American,” died Tuesday May 17, 2011.
Bringing the battleship Missouri to Pearl Harbor started as an idea tossed around in 1994 by Estes, retired Adm. Ron Hays and Navy veteran Edwin Carter, according to the museum.
It was a day in mid-February 1994 when Ronald Hays, a retired four-star admiral who had headed all U.S. forces in the Pacific, said to Estes, a retired chief boatswain’s mate, something like: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get the Missouri here?”.
Anyone who has served in the United States Navy knows that the people who get things done in the Navy are chief boatswain’s mates. This includes four-star admirals.
Estes, who had been out of the Navy since 1954, had worked with Carter to arrange for the deactivated submarine USS Bowfin to be brought to Pearl Harbor as the centerpiece of a submarine memorial complex.
Estes served over 20 years in the Navy. He took to the Navy like the proverbial duck takes to the water. Estes loved the Navy and the Navy returned that love. His first ship was the battleship California, later sunk at Pearl Harbor.
When Estes called Carter about the Missouri, Carter arranged for Estes and Hays to meet with him for lunch at the Waialae Country Club. “Cheap lunch,” Carter has been quoted as saying. “Nobody ordered booze.”
All three – the admiral, the chief boatswain’s mate and the naval reservist – agreed it should be possible to get the deactivated Mo here. Hays, who was going back east on a business trip, said he would talk to our congressional delegation (all approved) and to the vice chief of naval operations, Stanley Arthur, who had been a fighter pilot over Vietnam with Hays.
Arthur approved, too. Interestingly, he shared a story about a Japanese delegation that had startled him by asking to have the Missouri towed to Tokyo Bay in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the surrender ceremonies on the battleship.
“Why?” Arthur asked them. The Japanese delegation told him that the Missouri represented a new beginning. It turned the rhetoric of democracy, freedom and prosperity into reality for Japan.
This idea was welcomed by the three. As it has turned out, the Japanese have become major visitors to the Missouri.
It’s interesting to note that when the Missouri opened as a museum ship at Ford Island, it become a “bookend” to the Arizona Memorial. The beginning and end of the Pacific war is dramatically portrayed by these two ships.
This Author of this article had the pleasure of meeting Estes. I can attest that he was a true gentleman. He didn’t have a political bone in his body, and he loved America and his fellow veterans. I have no doubt that Harold Estes and Fred Ballard are sitting together with the Supreme Commander talking story.
A letter critical of Obama penned by Estes several years ago went viral on the Internet and references to it are still numerous. Estes began his letter with these words, “One of the benefits of my age, perhaps the only one, is to speak my mind, blunt and direct even to the head man.”
Estes will join his wife Doris at Court 11, niche 129P, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.