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

By Tom Watkins, CNN
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 2110 GMT (0510 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 90-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor gets bumped en route to Honolulu
  • "I thought that they just overbooked the deal," he says
  • United says it is not at fault

(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.

"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," said Charles Hobart, a spokesman for the airline, in an e-mailed statement. "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. We look forward to following up with Mr. Shatz and having an opportunity to welcome him back."

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 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.

Shatz is one of 50 Pearl Harbor survivors and 10 World War II veterans expected to attend Saturday's ceremony, which is slated to begin at 7:45 a.m. (12:45 p.m. ET) and last 90 minutes, said Eileen Martinez, a spokeswoman for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and the USS Arizona Memorial.

At the end of the ceremony, current enlisted military personnel will form an honor cordon through which the WWII veterans, Pearl Harbor survivors and civilian witnesses in attendance will walk or, in some cases, ride in wheelchairs, Martinez said. "As they make their way out, the military salutes them," she said. "It's an act of honoring those that have sacrificed, that have served and that are so precious to us.

"Of course, they are in their twilight years, so now is the time to honor them."

Some 2,000 to 2,500 of the more than 70,000 military forces who survived the attacks on Oahu are still alive, she said.

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