By Rear Adm. John Fuller
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific Commander, Task Force Energy and Environment, RIMPAC 2016
It has been just about a month since we concluded the 25th Rim of the Pacific Exercise as the key host site for Commander, U.S. Third Fleet and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. RIMPAC was an impressive exercise and gathering—where more than two dozen nations and 25,000 men and women built capable, adaptive partnerships.
RIMPAC 2016 was big in scope and scale, and the level of international cooperation was especially impressive when viewed through the historical WWII lens we have in Pearl Harbor.
Each day I can look out over Pearl Harbor and see the USS Arizona Memorial facing the Battleship Missouri Memorial. That iconic image, representing the two Navy ships most associated with the beginning and end of the Second World War in the Pacific, helped me reflect on what our Navy achieved during RIMPAC 2016—and consider this week’s 71st anniversary for the end of that war.
Among RIMPAC 2016 many historic highlights, navies from Italy, Germany and Denmark participated for the first time. Seven decades ago, both Italy and Germany—then Axis powers—waged war against their neighbors, including Denmark. Today, Italy and Germany are among our country’s closest friends and allies, along with Great Britain and France, and many other free democracies.
Unfathomable in the 1940’s, but a fact of life today, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) played a key role in RIMPAC 2016, leading the Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response Task Force. Japan, once an imperial power, part of the Axis powers, and led by a totalitarian government, is today a robust democracy and a cornerstone for maintaining stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
I found it especially poignant when U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, visited the Japanese-led HADR command center on Ford Island during the exercise. Kennedy’s father, President John F. Kennedy, was a World War II Navy hero who fought against Japan in the Pacific. Today, we routinely plan, maintain, train and operate closely with our JMSDF friends.
RIMPAC 2016 was the 25th iteration of the exercise. We look forward to RIMPAC 2018 and many more RIMPACs to come. In fact, RIMPAC 2020 will coincide with another anniversary milestone: the 75th commemoration for the end of World War II in the summer of 1945.
In addition to commemorating the end of the war in the Pacific this week, we are approaching another historic milestone: the 75th anniversary for the attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the United States’ entry into World War II.
As we assemble for future gatherings to ‘honor the past and inspire the future,’ which is the theme for the 75th commemoration, we must not miss an opportunity to take in the living history with those brave but humble WWII veterans. We must commemorate their sacrifices that ultimately cast the mold for the peace and prosperity we enjoy today.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans fought valiantly alongside other Pacific allies—beginning in earnest with the Battle of Midway and moving steadily west and south from Pearl Harbor across the Pacific from the spring of 1942 to the fall of 1945. The war ended 71 years ago with Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz aboard Adm. William Halsey’s 3rd Fleet flagship, USS Missouri (BB-63), for the signing of the instrument of surrender.
As for a commitment to keeping the peace, we made great strides in RIMPAC 2016 supporting the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, because we helped advance and strengthen a team of international partners “committed to supporting international law and ensuring a stable maritime domain,” as stated in Adm. Scott Swift’s Commander’s Guidance to [Pacific] Fleet.
Let’s remember that, in the name of freedom, World War II veterans and their families sacrificed so much for us. Maintaining peace, prosperity, and stability is the greatest gift we can give the “Greatest Generation” veterans. We owe them and their legacy no less.
The “Mighty Mo”—Battleship Missouri Memorial— looks over the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Both were powerful images for RIMPAC 2016 participants in Hawaii this past summer. Both are silent reminders of our Navy’s resilience, toughness and resolve. Those memorials inspire images of World War II, but they also stand as beacons of hope—and proof—that former enemies can become friends and partners for peace.