There was living history at a Veteran’s Day tribute at Vistoso Village on Sunday.
Retired Army Four-Star General John Wickham, and retired Navy Chief Paul Fields – one of about 200 Pearl Harbor survivors remaining in the nation – were among those honored this weekend in a ceremony that brought many to tears.
Wickham, a Splendido resident, spent 37 years in the Army, with tours in Germany, Korea, and Vietnam, where he was severely wounded after the Vietnamese infiltrated his firebase and set off an explosion feet from him, killing the officer next to him and riddling his own body with shrapnel. He was then shot multiple times by an enemy’s AK-47, but continued to lead his men as they successfully countered the attack, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.
“The good Lord gave me an extra life,” said Wickham in front of the crowd, which permeated with dozens of veterans.
In his rise through the ranks – capped off by a promotion to Chief of Staff of the United States Army under President Ronald Reagan – Wickham also earned 11 Air Medals, four Legions of Merit, eight Distinguished Service Medals, a Combat Infantry Badge, and Expert Infantry Badge, a Parachutist Badge, Doughboy Award, and 21 foreign decorations. He was named by the Army Times as one of the 10 leaders to most change the Army.
The 85-year-old retired general touched on the importance of keeping veteran’s care options and funding available to elderly veterans, saying that reducing or eliminating them, as has been a topic of political conversation, would be detrimental to those young enlistees considering a military career.
He also said that despite common theory that America is a hated country, there are those who hold this nation in high regard for its role in spreading and promoting freedom.
“We need to be proud of what we have done in the world, and what we continue to do,” said Wickham.
Like Wickham, Navy Chief Paul Fields was nearly killed while serving in the military. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Fields, then a gunners mate, was asleep in his ship bunk on the USS Tennessee at Pearl Harbor when he woke to the sound of explosions and gunfire.
A bomb then penetrated five inches of steel, coming to rest in his sleeping quarters, but didn’t explode.
Still, Fields was sprayed by the bomb’s acid, causing severe burns and blisters. After surviving the Japanese attack, Fields was taken to a hospital.
“With his burns, they wrapped him like a mummy,” said Captain Robert Stone, who spoke on Fields’ behalf.
A few days later, the Tennessee had been repaired and was ready for departure, but Fields was still recovering. When he heard his ship was leaving, he talked nurses into helping him escape the hospital.
“He said, ‘I can’t let my ship leave without me,’” said Stone.
Fields boarded the ship, where he continued to receive care. The following day, he awoke to the ship captain.
“The captain realized he had a good man,” said Stone. “He took care of the business with the hospital.”
Fields spoke briefly to thank those hosting the event and to reflect on those who did not make it out of Pearl Harbor alive.
“I accept most of the honor, and I take half and I pass it on to the ones that didn’t make it,” said Fields. “There were a bunch of young men that never knew what happened. Remember, keep America alert. We have a wonderful country.”
Others honored for their service included Colonel Lou Dibel, Captain Robert Stone, and Colonel Bruce Goodhue.