Pearl Harbor survivor and longtime Pensacola Naval Hospital volunteer Frank Emond celebrated his 100th birthday a little early on Wednesday with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds.
Emond, whose birthday is Monday, watched the Blue Angels practice demonstration and then met pilots from both elite fighter jet teams inside the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Wearing a “Pearl Harbor Survivor” baseball cap and a Hawaiian print shirt, Emond sat in front of the several thousand people who came to watch the Blue Angels fly.
Emond was joined by his friend and fellow Pearl Harbor survivor Bill Braddock, a 95-year-old retired Marine sergeant major who fought at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima after surviving the Pearl Harbor attack.
Both men received a standing ovation from the crowd and Emond was serenaded with “Happy Birthday.”
After the show, Emond was greeted by a line of well wishers who thanked him for his service.
Emond, a Rhode Island native, joined the Navy in 1938 and was playing the French horn with the Navy band on the USS Pennsylvania at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked.
Emond and his band mates were getting ready to play for the morning flag raising on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese bombs began hitting nearby. He was trained as a stretcher-bearer and began retrieving the injured and the dead.
“We were really taken apart, but we survived and we went on to win the war,” he said.
Braddock was a 17-year-old Marine stationed at Ford Island inside Pearl Harbor during the attack. Before the attack, Hawaii was “an absolute paradise,” said Braddock, who has a tattoo of a native Hawaiian woman doing the hula on one of his arms.
When the bombs started falling, Braddock said he and his fellow Marines weren’t sure what was happening.
“We didn’t even have live ammunition in the barracks,” he said.
Among the many people who greeted Emond and Braddock on Wednesday was David Guy, a museum visitor from Memphis. Guy told the men that his father served in the Pacific during World War II.
“I wanted to express my deep appreciation for what they did,” he said.
Although Emond and Braddock have seen the Blue Angels fly many times, both men said Wednesday’s show was special. The duo pointed to the sky and clapped during the breathtaking maneuvers by the F/A-18 pilots and they joined the rest of the crowd in doing the wave to salute the pilots when they landed.
Inside the museum, the men delighted members of the Blue Angels and Snowbirds with stories about their experiences. Emond told Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Blake McNaughton, a Snowbird pilot, about the time his band played for President Franklin Roosevelt before the war.
Blue Angels pilots Nate Scott, Tyler Davies and Brandon Hempler also spoke with the men and wished Emond a happy birthday.
“Their history is amazing,” Cmdr. Eric Doyle, the Blue Angels commanding officer, said after speaking to Emond and Braddock.
Doyle and his wife, Meghan, greeted both men and the men’s families.
Emond, who lives in Cantonment, retired from the Navy in 1968 and spent a decade working as a civilian employee at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
He has been a Red Cross volunteer at Pensacola Naval Hospital for the last 15 years. Emond works the hospital’s front desk where he greets visitors and works the hospital switchboard.
Emond, who recently had his driver’s license renewed, drives himself to the hospital to volunteer a couple of days each week. The hospital is planning another party for him on Monday.
He said he didn’t want anything special for his 100th birthday.
“I have enough. To be able to drive my own car and still volunteer at the hospital, that’s enough,” he said.