There are few things that are greater than being at PIR (Pass-in-Review) watching your sailor graduate. That is unless you are that sailor graduating.
It has often been said that words can not describe the feeling of parading with 88 shipmates before loved ones and affirming allegiance to the fleet.
Yet, for one sailor, that moment took over 70 years in the making. This past Friday at PIR, World War II Navy veteran and Battle of Midway survivor Joe Sanes finally got the chance to honorably graduate bootcamp.
Why did it take 70 years?
Normally a Sailor would not need to wait 70 years to graduate from bootcamp. But for a select few, graduation was not an option. No one expected America to go to war. No one expected that Japan would attack or that battleship row would be decimated. And certainly no one expected the Navy to fleet a Sailor so fast.
Yet, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and only 4 weeks into training at the RTC, Sanes and his fellow sailor recruits were directly assigned to the fleet. They never graduated.
Sanes and his fellow Sailor recruits went on to serve in some of the greatest capacities our Navy has ever seen.
Sanes himself was ordered to the destroyer USS Hammann (DD 412). While aboard ship, he helped with the rescue of more than 500 Sailors from the crippled USS Lexington (CV 2) during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Shortly there after, he survived tragedy on his own ship as it was torpedoed and sank on June 6, 1942 during the battle of Midway. He went on to serve in the Solomon Islands Campaign, the Aleutian Islands Campaign, and the Mariana Islands Campaign, before receiving an honorable discharge on Nov. 14, 1947.
So what does a 91 year old freshly graduated sailor think of PIR?
“After 72 years, I am proud and happy to be a part of this graduation,” said Sanes. “The Sailors today are better looking than the Sailors of my time. I was impressed with what I saw today. I am sure the graduations back in 1941 wouldn’t have been anywhere close to this.”
And what was his greatest Naval lesson- the one he tends to share?
“The first thing the Navy taught me was discipline. It’s very important in battle. Everyone has to be coordinated; everyone has to do their job. Without discipline there will be failure.” Said Sanes.
But as Sanes participates in speaking engagements throughout the country educating the public, ensuring the legacy of Naval heritage, and honoring his fallen shipmates, he shares something more important than just that Naval discipline. He shows to everyone both in and out of the fleet that he represent the fighting spirit of the Navy. He is one who has gone before to defend freedom and democracy around the world. And if you called him a true hero he would just shake his head and humbly reply, “I was lucky.The survivors are not the heroes. The real heroes are the ones who never came back.”