Underwater honors: Divers unite 20 feet under in support of Veterans
November 18, 2013
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- Scuba divers from around Oahu came together on Veterans Day at a popular dive site to "fly" an American flag in the ocean to honor American veterans.
Four dive clubs and two dive shops converged on Kahe Point, also called Electric Beach, on the West Side of the island for the American flag dive, along with civilian divers and military divers from all services.
Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Toman, deputy commanding officer at the 599th Transportation Brigade on Wheeler Army Airfield, said the flag was raised at 6:30 a.m. (sunrise) and lowered at 5 p.m. for retreat, just as flags are flown on military bases.
"We kept a diver in the water at the base of the flag almost the entire time. Non-divers volunteered to run a 'base camp' on shore to help with food, dive gear and supplies," Toman said.
Spc. Jonathan Nguyen, health care specialist in the Hematology-Oncology Clinic at Tripler Army Medical Center, said the group was encouraged by the enthusiastic participation of both divers and non-divers.
"While it only took about six divers to actually set the flag up and take it down, we had close to 30 divers in the water for the opening ceremony," Nguyen said. "Even though the ceremony was scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m., we had people arriving as early as 4 a.m. to help with the setup."
Toman said the divers were very careful to set up the flag in a respectful manner and so that it would remain stable throughout the day.
"We carried the flag pole, with the flag wrapped around it, into the water along with a weighted stand and veteran escorts. We swam out about 100 yards from the shore and then submerged. We placed the stand in place and set the flag pole into the stand and then, using guylines, stabilized the flag pole due to the water current. All divers then rendered honors to the flag as it was unfurled," Toman said.
Although club members and shops set up and sponsored the event, all were welcome to participate.
"We placed the flag at a depth of about 20 feet and selected the spot because of the location. Almost anyone entering the water to go dive or snorkeling would eventually see it on the way out; we wanted to be sure people could see it," Nguyen said.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael "Mike" VanHise, future operations NCOIC for the 8th Military Police Brigade had the initial idea for, and was the chief organizer of, the flag dive. He said the event ended up fostering harmony among dive organizations.
"My take on the event is that it's normally very hard to get multiple dive shops/clubs to share the same battle space. But because it was to honor our vets, they all came together to pull it off," he said.
"It was really nice to see groups normally competing for business rally together in one event under one flag for the common goal of paying tribute to our veterans. We also had a collection set up to take in canned food and other items that will later be donated to homeless veterans at U.S. Vets in Barbers Point," he said.
VanHise said he plans for this to be the first of many diver recognition events to come.
"I am already working on the next event and the Memorial Day event. Stay tuned," he said.