The Salem Museum dedicated its new Veterans Plaza on Wednesday, June 6 with the help of World War II veteran Dr. Harry Minarik, many other veterans, the Roanoke Navy Sea Cadets, and the Salem High School jazz band.
Located in the rear of the museum and adjacent to Longwood Park, it will serve as an entrance to a future art gallery on the museum’s ground floor. Museum director John Long says there are veterans from all of the nation’s earliest wars and conflicts up to at least Vietnam buried within 100 yards of the Salem Museum.
Minarik recounted his time piloting a torpedo bomber in the South Pacific aboard the carriers Lexington, Bon Homme Richard, and Randolph. He told of his nearly fatal encounters with Japan, including a time when a 50 caliber round was shot into his fuselage, just two feet away from him.
He remembers that he was in the air above northern Japan when the war was called off: “We were coming up on a gorgeous view of Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji was dead ahead and the sun was behind us. We were going in and all of a sudden the radio came on and said ‘Charlie 2 to Charlie base, the war is over,’ and that was it,” Minarik said. ”
A brief and impromptu question and answer session brought up questions about radiation and experiences with Japanese kamikaze.
“We didn’t know anything about radiation,” replied Minarik. The suicidal kamikazes inflicted the most damage and affected American troops during the siege of Okinawa, he said.
One veteran in attendance, the former chief of staff of Lewis Gale, Warren Moorman II, 93, was there – he was among the few to visit the atomic bomb sites months after D-Day as an army surgeon, his son, Warren III, said.
The Museum is still accepting applications to place inscribed pavers in honor of or in memory of veterans in the plaza. Military personnel of any war, or who served in peacetime, may be so recognized. Proceeds from the inscriptions support the Salem Museum’s programs.
The Salem Museum’s next historical program is scheduled for Monday, June 18.