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WWII Veteran John Gleeson represents Hawaii at 80th D-Day Anniversary

11 June 2024

From Donald W. Randall, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

HONOLULU, Hawaii - WWII veteran John Gleeson received a hero’s sendoff when he departed Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on May 29 for Normandy, France, to take part in the 80th anniversary of D-Day.
The 100-year-old B-24 Bomber flight engineer was surprised by the fanfare, which included a motorcade escort by the Marine Corps League, a curbside Air Force Honor Guard rendering honors, and a blessing by Navy Region Hawaii Chaplain, Capt. Gary Thornton. Among the 100 friends and well-wishers were Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Command Master Chief Quentin Newsom, Special Forces Association Chapter VIII, American Veterans Hawaii, and Pacific Historic Parks. Also in attendance were two groups close to Gleeson’s heart: The Hawaii Wing Civil Air Patrol and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
Gleeson joined the Civil Air Patrol in 1980 and served as a commander of the glider squadron out of Mokuleia. He is also a founding member and former director of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, where he currently volunteers, sharing his message with younger generations: “We won the war. Enjoy your freedom, we almost lost it.”
The sole representative from Hawaii, Gleeson joined more than 70 other WWII veterans from around the nation on the epic journey back to Europe. He was escorted by Tracie Hunter, founder of local veteran organization WWII Beyond the Call, who provides support to Gleeson in Hawaii.
Gleeson enlisted in the Army immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 18 years old at the time. When he heard news of troops storming the beaches at Normandy, Gleeson wanted to do more. “At the time I had a very safe job. When I heard about D-Day, I immediately went to my commanding officer and asked him to send me over to get in the fight.”
Gleeson became a flight engineer with the famed Eighth Air Force that flew combat missions over Europe. During the course of WWII, the Mighty Eighth became the largest air armada in the world, compiling an impressive war record.
Gleeson said he was “overwhelmed” by the opportunity to return to Europe for the 80th commemoration of D-Day. The significance of being the sole Hawaii representative was not lost on him. “I was honored to be asked to go. It is going to be hard to look at those 9,000 crosses though. Two 19-year-old crew members did not return home with us,” he recalled. Gleeson lost two friends from his original crew and wanted to honor their memory through his participation.
Gleeson spent the days leading up to the commemoration touring Normandy and meeting an energetic and grateful public, eager to shake his hand.
Gleeson’s daughter, Colleen Roe, who accompanied him on his trip to Normandy, said her father was surprised by all the attention he received. “Why are all these people greeting me?” Gleeson repeatedly asked her. “I just did my job. I’m nothing special.”

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