PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — When a Vietnam veteran briefly stopped in Hawaii on his way home from war, he vowed to return one day to honor the people who perished during the attack on Pearl Harbor. With just less than two months to live, Joseph Hooker realized his longtime dream on Wednesday.
The Marine Corps veteran, who has heart disease and cancer, traveled from his home in Essex, Maryland, to Honolulu to visit the site of the Japanese attack that pushed the United States into World War II. The Dream Foundation, which grants wishes for those who have life expectancies of a year or less, arranged for the journey.
Hooker's brother and sister-in-law, who are his caregivers, took turns pushing him in a wheelchair as they went on a private tour of the battleship USS Missouri.
The Hawaii dream stems from a 20-minute stop in the islands in 1971 as Hooker headed home from Vietnam, Hooker said from his Waikiki hotel room Tuesday. He was let off the ship just long enough to make a phone call to his family and eat some ice cream. He promised to come back someday "to honor the men and women that gave their life at Pearl Harbor."
More than four decades later, Hooker visited the spot where Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri and got a rare peek inside the captain's cabin. "I've never seen a battleship like this before," he said.
The Dream Foundation's new program, Dreams for Veterans, made Hooker's wish possible. In applying, Hooker wrote a letter saying that he longed to visit Pearl Harbor to "learn, touch and understand what happened there."
In the letter, he described voluntarily enlisting in the Marine Corps when he was 17, saying, "My heart was telling me that I was a Marine and that I was going to work hard and train to be the best."
Veterans often see Pearl Harbor as a symbol of why they served in the military, said Jessie Higa, a volunteer historian for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, who accompanied the Hookers on their tour. "They served to serve those before them," she said.
The decorated veteran moved up through the ranks to become a sergeant.
"My dream was to see Pearl Harbor," Hooker said while resting in the Missouri's captain's cabin — a location where presidents have visited. "I can go home now and rest in peace."