Pearl Harbor survivor finds a new battle: getting to the memorial

Posted at 12:55 PM, Dec 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-06 14:55:46-05

By Tom Watkins

(CNN) — Nearly 72 years after surviving the attacks from the menacing skies over Pearl Harbor, Ewalt Shatz found himself fighting another battle: this time, just to make it to the islands.

The 90-year-old former sailor told CNN affiliate KHNL that he had intended to fly Wednesday from Los Angeles International Airport to Honolulu, Hawaii, to take part in a memorial on Saturday at Pearl Harbor in honor of more than 2,400 who died in the Japanese air attacks in 1941.

But he was bumped from his United Airlines flight.

“I thought that they just overbooked the deal and they were trying to get rid of a couple of customers, because somebody had my seat, and that’s what made me mad, because I paid for that seat, and somebody else was sitting in it.”

United said it wasn’t at fault.

“We proactively rebooked Mr. Shatz at check in to ensure his arrival into HNL,” a person who identified himself as Rob said in a statement posted along with Facebook complaints about the incident. “Severe weather in the path of United flight 1226 required the flight to carry additional fuel and reduce the number of passengers on board by 41. United agents in Los Angeles noticed Mr. Shatz in the lobby attempting to check in for the flight and, after approaching him and offering assistance, proactively rebooked him on the best available alternate flight based on the time of check in. We look forward to following up with Mr. Shatz and having an opportunity to welcome him back.”

The airline did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking further comment.

But Shatz, who was flying alone, said an agent told him that only two customers were taken off the flight, and the only other person he saw was a man in a wheelchair, according to KHNL.

He was rebooked on an American Airlines flight eight hours later for Maui, where Hawaiian Airlines representatives greeted him and escorted him to a first-class seat aboard a flight to Honolulu. He arrived there shortly before midnight.

Shatz’s story had preceded him on social media, and he was met at the airport by dozens of people, most of them in uniform.

“We’re here to show our respect for him,” said Rex Parmelee, chief Navy counselor. “It’s a tremendous honor; that’s why we take it so serious, because heritage is huge.”

Shatz enjoyed the support. “Everybody wanted a picture with me, and they were making out like I was a hero, but I’m not, really,” Shatz said. “It was embarrassing in a way, but I liked it.”

The airline ran into blowback on social media, where one person wrote, “United should be ASHAMED!”

“United has just lost another loyal customer,” said another.

And this: “Will never fly United again.”

On December 7, 1941, Shatz was an 18-year-old seaman aboard the USS Patterson. Last year, he was honored for having shot down a Japanese plane on with a .50-caliber machine gun — the first time he had used one — during the attack.

He said he had not heard from United since the incident and planned never to fly on the airline again.

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