Veteran Salute: Vietnam vet ensures Pearl Harbor is never forgotten

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Keeping fighter aircraft in the fight — that was the job of a Vietnam veteran.

Jim Denison said the combat comradery is something you have to live with to believe.

His father sure understood that comradery, he served in WWII.

Denison was just a child when he started digging around for his father’s uniform, then years later he picked up ‘a Day of Infamy’ in his high school’s library.

He said that’s when he realized Pearl Harbor was a day that changed our world forever.

“Postcards, match book covers.”

That’s just the beginning of Denison’s collection.

“There’s things, back there that came out of Post Toasties boxes back in the 50s,” Denison said. “There’s shiny things that say ‘Remember Pearl Harbor, and even underlings to remind you of the same.”

Many of these pieces of the past are connected to a Day in Infamy.

USS Arizona
FILE – In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, smoke rises from the battleship USS Arizona as it sinks during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP Photo, File)

“That is oil from the USS Arizona,” Denison said. “I am one of those people who believe history needs to be remembered, or it’s going to be repeated.”

Denison knows what it’s like to be part of history.

“The graduation gown wasn’t even back in the box,” Denison said.

He had barely graduated high school but said he already knew he was headed to Vietnam.

He said he quickly found his niche in the the Air Force.

“I was an air frame structural, repair specialist,” Denison said. “I took that to heart.”

Their job was to get aircraft back in the air.

“I made stuff, even out of beer cans, if I could repair an aircraft or helicopter,” Denison said.

Their work had to be turned around in a hurry.

“Lives counted on it,” Denison said.

He said they worked on many types of aircraft.

“There’s Cam Ranh Bay,” Denison said.

That is where Denison was on his first tour, then there was a second.

“This is Phu Cat,” Denison said.

After his time with the Air Force, he continued to serve.

“I still had it in me,” Denison said.

That’s why he joined the Army National Guard, and he finally got a chance to live out a childhood dream, to drive an Army truck.

“We had to take care of everything we had with a support company down here,” Denison said.

His experience from the Air Force paid off, when the Guard added to the fleet, with tracks or tanks.

He said he continues to draw on his experience from all his years of service, on the special missions, where he talks to school children.

“The kids want a chance to talk to people who have served in uniform,” Denison said.

His message really resonates.

He said the man who sent him a piece of the USS Arizona, heard one of his school speeches years ago, and that inspired him to join the Navy.

The sailor then sent Denison a piece of the ship, to add to his collection.

“It’s grown,” Denison said. “That’s an understatement.”

He is determined to continue to find space, for things he might find in the future, all for a very important reason.

“It’s been my life’s work to make sure people don’t forget December the 7th,” Denison said.

He has done so much to help ensure Pearl Harbor is never forgotten, that back in the early 1980s he was made an Honorary Member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

He said he looks forward to getting back to sharing more about that fateful day, and his own experiences in the Vietnam War, with school children.

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