World War II

Lest we forget, #2

... honoring Air Force veterans

by Russ Priestley

Not many WWII veterans know of the Honors Flight Program, an idea of Earl Morse of Springfield, Ohio. While working as a physician's assistant at a clinic for veterans, he would ask the vets if they had seen the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. None had seen it, some didn't know it existed.

In May, 2005, with the help of a pilots' club, the first Honor Flight was made using a small airplane. This inspired Jeff Miller of North Carolina to convince commercial airlines of the importance of this venture. This led to 85 regional hubs in 33 states. The airlines were convinced of the importance of the venture. I can't speak for all of the airlines, but AirTran gave me a free ride to Baltimore. It was not on a stand-by basis, but a definite free reservation. AirTran flies the youngest Boeing fleet 717 and 737 jets to 60 destinations with 700 daily flights.

My first knowledge of the program came from my WWII flying companion, Tom Roberts of Indiana. Out of a group of about 30 pilots and navigators who flew out of Guam, there are only six of us left. Tom thought it would be a great idea if we went together as a group. Since this would require me to fly West, then East, we decided to meet in Baltimore. Tom's daughter, Valerie Chapman made the reservations, plane and motel, for me.

This made me a part of the Dayton, Ohio group, of which Jim Salamon of Ohio was the leader. He was not only the tour guide, but also supplied a camera to any who had none. The plan was to hand in the camera, or film to him and he said he would send everyone a CD. That was no empty promise, my CD arrived yesterday showing all those "old guys" at the various memorials.

With the four-colored T-shirts, ribbon and i.d. for each, Jim did not lose a one of us on the motor coach driven by Paul Kemp. Each of us was guided by a volunteer who took photos of us at each memorial and pushed a wheelchair where necessary. An example of the consideration given...I thought my guide had given my disposable camera to Jim, but it was left on the seat. The driver, at his own expense, found it, called Jim for my address and mailed it to me. I wrote a letter of thanks to him, along with compensation.

After visiting all of the memorials, ending with The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia, we were driven back to Maryland to a great buffet restaurant. The Dayton group then went to the airport to complete their one day trip. I went to the Comfort Inn for an overnight stay. Next morning a volunteer came to drive me to the airport. (He would not accept compensation which I offered).

The most surprising thing, because we were all identified by our T-shirts, was how many people everywhere wanted to shake hands as they would give us a sincere, "Thank you for your service."

In spite of seven wars since ours, maybe we are not forgotten.

November 6, 2009

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