College of Miami structure scholar Emi Kopke nonetheless can’t consider her luck. She answered a Craiglist advert asking for an artist to do hand drawings for a particular venture. The self-taught artist despatched in 15 of her hand drawings — together with a few of bones and bugs. Little did she know that the undertaking would lead her on the journey of a lifetime.
“I answered a Craiglist advert and have become the perfect good friend of a ninety three-yr-previous man,” stated Kopke. Nevertheless it was not simply any ninety three-yr-previous. He was John Seelie, one of many final Pearl Harbor survivors, who had been stationed with the twenty fifth Infantry Division on that fateful day when Japan attacked the U.S., resulting in its entry into World Warfare II.
And the commercial, which had been positioned by Seelie’s “buddy” Mike Cahill, was for an artist to design a shirt to doc Seelie’s life in order that he might put on it to the seventy fifth anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It was to be a shock.
“I needed this shirt to be magnificent,” stated Cahill, a retired developer who turned like a son to the veteran. “One thing that no different Pearl Harbor survivor would have.”
So, after assembly in a espresso store close to Venice, Florida, the place Seelie lived, Kopke with Cahill’s assist started an journey that might be each instructional and emotional. She meticulously researched Seelie’s life, and came upon that he was stationed in Pearl Harbor’s Schofield Barracks and was one of many first servicemen to view the assault by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, even capturing on the planes earlier than taking cowl.
Kopke, who had by no means been a historical past buff, felt a pull towards Seelie. Cahill warned her: “For those who begin this it’s a must to end it. If you end it your life may by no means be fairly the identical … for you may be uncovered to individuals and experiences you by no means dreamed attainable. You’ll be a part of an prolonged household by means of the power, resilience and historical past of considered one of this nation’s dwelling nationwide treasures, you’ll really feel it, him. I consider [it] will go on after he leaves us.”
Thus started a journey to sketch a tapestry of the veteran’s life to be embroidered on a particular blue shirt together with a colourful lei manufactured from hibiscus flowers to represent Hawaii. Kopke used an image of the Pearl Harbor hat worn by Seelie to repeat the font she would use to put in writing Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1942 and December 7, 2016. A proud American Eagle served because the centerpiece of the monogram.
On the again of the shirt, a hand tossing a coin recollects the best way Seelie gained the appropriate to serve in Hawaii, since a number of different servicemen needed the submit.
“And I felt that it might be necessary for him to take his household with him as properly,” she stated.
Utilizing an image of Seelie’s late spouse’s signature for instance, she sketched the phrases “With all my Love, Betty” and she or he inserted a white flower with the names of his 4 youngsters in every petal: Bruce, Kenneth, Lynda and Denise. The white hibiscus would lie over Seelie’s coronary heart.
Kopke was capable of hand Seelie the particular shirt on the day she met him throughout a Veteran’s Day celebration at an area highschool in Venice. He acquired a thunderous standing ovation from the scholars and school current.
“Once I gave him the shirt he cried,” Kopke stated. “This man has been by means of the conflict and he cried as a result of I made him a shirt.”
However from that assembly, a particular connection was made, Kopke stated. “He thought-about me his honorary daughter.” They might speak for hours. “He was my John,” she stated fondly, spending extra time with him than together with her personal grandfather.
Seelie was impressed that somebody so younger would take an curiosity in his life and he informed her to unfold phrase amongst her younger associates.
“His message was that folks ought to keep in mind how terrible wars have been in order that perhaps they might not be keen to start out a brand new one,” she stated.
One in every of Seelie’s needs was to go to the 9-11 memorial in New York Metropolis to pay his respects to the victims of that tragedy. Cahill, with the assistance of the Denis V. Cooper Basis, was capable of get his good friend to New York Metropolis.
He additionally commissioned a portray from Kopke to commemorate the event. She drew an oil portray of Seelie overlooking Floor Zero.
Cahill and Kopke accompanied the Pearl Harbor veteran to Floor Zero and watched as members of the army and police pressure welcomed him at a particular ceremony within the Floor Zero Museum. Her portray was one of many highlights of the ceremony.
“In all places we went individuals needed to shake his hand and thank him for his service,” Kopke stated.
Sporting his Pearl Harbor hat and commemorative shirt, Seelie was given an American flag that flew over that sacred floor, and later laid a Hawaiian lei on a piece of the memorial. Later that day, she accompanied the veteran to the famed Firehouse 10 throughout from the World Commerce Middle, the place Seelie was given a hero’s welcome.
For Kopke, sharing these moments with Seelie will ceaselessly be a spotlight of her younger life, particularly since months after the go to to New York, Seelie received sick and was hospitalized.
He handed away final Aug. eleven, however not earlier than he made positive that his legacy would endure. He left his Pearl Harbor hat for Kopke, wrapped in a white ribbon.
“He informed individuals I needed to maintain his hat as a result of I represented the youthful era and so long as I used to be round I might maintain his reminiscence alive.”
Barbara Gutierrez is College of Miami’s affiliate director of communications and public relations.