Standing on board the USS Intrepid this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio reflected on the military service of his father, a troubled World War II veteran who committed suicide when Mr. de Blasio was 18.
“For my father, those battles he went through, including Okinawa, one of the bloodiest in the history of this nation, he was so honored to serve his country no matter what was thrown at him,” Mr. de Blasio said on Memorial Day.
“Towards the end of the battle of Okinawa, a Japanese grenade came near him, went off, he lost half of his leg and he came back to this country and he had to fight again, and every veteran knows this,” the mayor continued. “You know it from your own lives. You know it from the people you serve with. He had to fight again to physically rehabilitate and he had to fight against things that were harder to identify.”
Mr. de Blasio’s father served in the Pacific theater and his mother worked in the Office of War Information. His wife’s father served in the army in Europe and her mother worked on the assembly line in the Springfield, Massachusetts armory.
Later in life, Mr. de Blasio’s father, Warren Wilhelm Sr., became an alcoholic and grew estranged from his family. Mr. de Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm Jr. and changed his name as an adult in a seeming effort to distance himself from his father.
But on Memorial Day, his father was on his mind.
“The stories I heard from my father who was in places like the Aleutian Islands, Leyte Gulf, and ultimately Okinawa, [he] talked about ships like the Intrepid with awe,” recalled Mr. de Blasio. “They saw the Intrepid and the other great ships as their protectors. And they knew that these ships were therefore targets for the enemy. In fact this ship suffered five kamikaze airplane strikes, which is extraordinary that it came and it earned that title, Intrepid, for sure.”
Mr. de Blasio placed a wreath on the Hudson River in commemoration of deceased soldiers and solemnly stood while a 100-foot American flag was unfurled and a three volley rifle salute filled the air. Before leaving, he posed for pictures and signed autographs for a crowd that gathered around him.
“Now the Intrepid has always meant a lot to me. Whenever I’ve been here, it doesn’t feel abstract, doesn’t feel I’m in a museum. It feels like I’m touching something that is part of our own family’s lives,” Mr. de Blasio said.