MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Emi Kopke and John Seelie were an unlikely pair.
Not only were they friends with a 70 plus year age difference, but they had only met three times in person.
Kopke, a University of Miami student and artist, first learned about Seelie, a survivor of Pearl Harbor, through Craigslist. There was post seeking an artist to illustrate Seelie’s life on a shirt he would wear to the 75th anniversary of the attack.
Kopke got the job and started researching her subject.
“It wasn’t a choice whether or not to do it, it was just that I was meant to see that and it was my duty to do it,” she said.
She met Seelie several months later to present him with the shirt. She said it was a special moment for Seelie, the sole surviving member of the 25th infantry – Tropical Lightning.
A friendship flourished.
“My connection with John was a lot more about us as people than about his time in the war,” she said.
They would meet again when Seelie invited Kopke to New York. At 94 years old, his dying wish was to visit the site of another deadly attack the – The National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Living with cancer, John didn’t fear for his future, according to Kopke, he was more concerned with America’s.
“He would say all the time that he doesn’t want people to forget the war because maybe they won’t be so eager to start another,” she said.
She met Seelie one last time when he was in hospice. Shortly after he gifted her the hat he often paired with a Hawaiian shirt. A reminder for Kopke of the message he entrusted her to carry forward.
“Maybe everyone can just be a little nicer and figure things out without having to involve a war,” she said.
John Seelie died of cancer in August 2017.