To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Americans, World War II veteran, chancellor and former president of the University of Richmond E. Bruce Heilman led a motorcycle parade into a ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial on Wednesday morning.
“Two roads roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference,” Heilman said, opening his remarks with Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” to an attentive crowd waving American flags.
Dr. Bruce Heilman, Chancellor and former President of the University of Richmond, is a WWII Marine veteran and is national spokesman for the Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive campaign. (Photo by Austin Walker)
For his 90th birthday, Heilman recreated the 7,000-mile cross-country ride he took five years ago in remembrance of the tragedy. The Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission organized a ceremony in celebration of his trip featuring speeches from its chairman, Del. Kirk Cox, and Warren Hegg, national supervisor of the Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive Campaign.
Opening remarks for the ceremony were led by Director of Education at the Virginia War Memorial James Triesler and Executive Director Jon C. Hatfield.
To the left of Heilman sat a group of World War II veterans, some of whom survived conflicts detailed by Triesler. Veterans of other wars were also in attendance, including members of the Virginia Patriot Guard and other patriotic organizations.
“We are still genuinely interested in what we did. We are proud of ourselves … we are proud of what we did,” Heilman said. “I am speaking personally for those I represented as I traveled across the country for the Spirit of ‘45.”
On his most recent ride, Heilman logged more than 7,000 miles on his motorcycle, with stops in states that had namesake ships damaged in the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Students from teacher Nathanial Henry’s history classes at Clover Hill High School came to the ceremony, holding banners and flags to welcome Heilman’s parade.
Clover Hill High School students hold a banner that welcomes Dr. Heilman home. (Photo by Austin Walker)
“It’s an opportunity for the students to interact with living history and appreciate their studies as we’ve studied all year,” Henry said. “These opportunities they’ll remember, they’ll be able to tell their kids ‘I met veterans,’ because we’re losing them so fast.”
One attendee, who was mentioned by Triesler in his closing remarks, was Korean War veteran Tommy Sammons. Sammons was dressed head-to-toe in stars and stripes, handing out flags.
“I think it’s great seeing the people come out here to support (Heilman),” Sammons said. “I think the spirit of patriotism has skyrocketed within the last few years.”
The Keep the Spirit of ‘45 Alive Campaign, of which Heilman serves as the national spokesperson, works to celebrate the achievements of the “Greatest Generation,” in order to instill the same values in their descendants today.
Heilman has some closing comments to make in light of the holiday being celebrated this coming Monday.
“Memorial Day is more than the hotdogs and marshmallows. It is a day of remembering those who gave their lives for freedom for this country, for who we are,” Heilman said.