UPDATE 3:10 p.m.: President Donald Trump officially declared Wilmington as America’s first World War II Heritage City following a Wednesday afternoon ceremony at the Battleship North Carolina to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.
“This afternoon, my administration is formally recognizing the city’s exceptional contributions to victory in the second world war,” President Trump said. “It is my tremendous honor to officially designate Wilmington, North Carolina as our nation’s first World War II Heritage City...that’s a big deal. Congratulations to you all.”
Workers built 243 ships over a five-year period in Wilmington during World War II. The city was home of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company. Three prisoner-of-war camps were also in Wilmington, holding as many as 550 Nazi prisoners at their peak.
Nearly 250 men from the Wilmington area died defending the U.S., and two New Hanover High School graduates received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Retired Navy Captain Wilbur Jones, who helped lead the 12-year effort for Wilmington to earn the designation, was congratulated by President Trump for his efforts.
“Let me also thank retired Navy captain Wilbur Jones who has championed the cause of World War II Heritage cities. Thank you, Wilbur. Great job,” said Trump who followed that up with a salute to Jones.
“This is a great day for Wilmington,” said Congressman David Rouzer afterwards. “It’s a great day for Wilbur Jones and everyone who’s work so hard towards this. I know senator Tillis and I I’ve been working hard for a good long time. It’s great to see it all come to fruition. It means a lot for Wilmington and for all the work that’s been done to preserve the heritage and all the great contributions the Wilmington area made towards a World War II effort.”
Trump also recognized some of the World War II veterans who gathered at the battleship for the ceremony.
Paul Phillips who is a veteran of World War II and the wars of Korea and Vietnam, served aboard the Battleship North Carolina in the Pacific Theater during the second world war.
“At 93 years old, he has returned today to visit the ship upon which he so nobly served. He is a tremendous man. Paul, it is our honor to have you with us,” Trump said.
Woody Williams, 97, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima — a critical victory for the United States against Japan.
“He braved a torrent of hostile fire while destroying one enemy machine gun position after another,” Trump said. “Woody, congratulations. You inspire us all.”
“These brave Americans raced into the fires of Hell to vanquish tyranny, dethrone fascism, and defend the American way of life. You have the eternal and undying gratitude of all Americans, and that’s why I’m here today,” Trump added.
President Trump said he’d met with each veteran honored today.
Senator Thom Tillis also attended a dinner in their honor Tuesday.
“I was with the World War II veterans last night,” Tillis said. “We had dinner together and it’s remarkable to hear their stories..... because we are honoring Wilmington as a World War II city and it means a lot to them. It means a lot to these wounded warriors that are here from war since 911. We have lost 7,000 since 9/11. They know we’re honoring the Second World War veterans but we need to honor the Korean war veterans, the Vietnam war veterans and every man and woman that serves.”
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo called it a day to transcend politics.
“It’s a tremendous honor. I was just happy that the president was able to come here today and bestow that as number one in the country the first city to have this designation,” Saffo said. “Today was about the veterans. About this initiative. It was about the work that Wilbur is done in a lot of people of done over the years to try to make this happen. I would hope it would transcends politics we can take a break from politics for one day and really focus on the achievements of this great nation and what this community and city have meant to the war effort. I’m just happy to be here today and be the mayor of this great city Wilmington North Carolina.”
UPDATE 2:35 p.m.: President Donald Trump arrived at the Battleship North Carolina for the World War II Heritage City ceremony.
Watch it below:
UPDATE 1:40 p.m.: President Trump arrived at Wilmington International Airport around 1:35 p.m.
Once off Air Force One, the president was greeted by Republican leadership, including Senator Thom Tillis and state representatives Holly Grange and Ted Davis. The president then briefly addressed hundreds of people that gathered on the tarmac to welcome him to the Port City.
President Trump then departed ILM for the Battleship North Carolina and the World War II Heritage City ceremony.
UPDATE 1:15 p.m.: The stage is set for President Donald Trump at the Battleship North Carolina ahead of his arrival in the Port City this afternoon.
The stage, adorned with a podium and several United States and North Carolina flags, is set up in a makeshift staging area at the parking lot of the battleship. President Trump is expected to speaking around 2 p.m.
Air Force One took off from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. a little before 1 p.m. The flight is expected to take about an hour.
Ahead of the president’s arrival, several protestors have gathered along the Riverwalk in Downtown Wilmington, some singing “This Land is Your Land” while others hold signs. One sign states “You’re Doing A Bad Job.”
Another protestor is challenging attendees to register ten people to vote.
UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: Hundreds of people are expected to greet President Donald Trump when he arrives at Wilmington International Airport this afternoon.
According to the Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party Michael Whatley, between 800 and 1,000 people who received invitations will be on the tarmac at ILM.
A microphone has been set up so President Trump can address the group before heading to the Battleship North Carolina.
The president is expected to arrive at the Battleship North Carolina at 2 p.m. for remarks in front of more than a dozen World War II veterans, advocates for the WWII Heritage City designation, and community leaders.