'Forgotten' No More: Veterans of World War II Pacific Theater Celebrated in Washington

Some who fought there called it the "forgotten theater" of World War II. But now the Allied campaign in the Pacific from 1941 to 1945 is being thrust front and center for commemoration.

A new HBO miniseries about the war in the Pacific makes its television debut next week and is being shown at the White House today.

Today, 250 American veterans who fought in the Pacific theater -- from the first battle on Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima and the campaigns in China, Burma and India -- gathered at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, many for the first time.

"I can't describe it. It's too terrific. It's so important," said Phil Rosten, 88, who traveled to Washington from Chicago for the event.

The veterans, many in wheelchairs and wearing caps with military insignia, said today's ceremony was a meaningful chance to remind the country about the importance of their contributions to the war effort.

"The bunch you see here today -- we chased a bunch of bandits out of the world, that were trying to take over the world," said Larry Pinto, 85, of Montauk, N.Y.

"I think the movie 'The Pacific' is going to emphasize that part of the war that is the forgotten war," said Ed Ferra, 86, also of New York. "More emphasis has been put on the European war than the Pacific because we were on islands nobody ever heard of."

American Dead: 104,000 in Pacific

More than 104,000 American service members were killed, 200,000 wounded and 52,000 listed as missing in the Pacific theater of WWII. America lost 300,000 in the European theater.

"[The Pacific] is certainly not a stepchild, as a lot of people think. It was not an afterthought," said Tom Vortmann of the National Museum of the Pacific War. "American participation in the war began with the [Japanese] bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it ended in the Pacific" with the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"It's a wonderful thing that we've finally been remembered," said Woody Warczek, 84, who served as a Navy corpsman.

World War II: Pacific Veterans Honored

Spielberg directed the film "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998, which depicted the Allied invasion of Normandy. Hanks starred in the film. In 2001, Spielberg and Hanks produced "Band of Brothers," an HBO miniseries about a military unit in the European theater.

"The Pacific" is their first work documenting the other major theater of WWII.

Spielberg and Hanks attended today's event with Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs W. Scott Gould.

"With each passing generation, more and more people are forgetting about World War II and all the milestones of the 20th century," said Spielberg to the crowd of veterans, seated before the memorial's giant reflecting pool and fountains. "I want to shed light on the generation responsible for the freedoms we experience today and take for granted."

Hanks, long a champion of the so-called "greatest generation," praised the veterans for making the difference "between liberty and subservience, between freedom and terror," despite the challenges of war.

HBO will begin airing the 10-part series, which focuses on the lives of U.S. Marines fighting the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on Sunday.

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