Local World War II vets recently took a trip worthy of remembering.
On April 21, locals Houston Jones, Buddy Andrews, Gordon Leslie, Arthur Schlock, Dick Morton and Doggett Whitaker were among a group making the day trip to Washington, D.C.
The Honor Flight Network was created to fulfill the dreams of World War II veterans and those who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars to visit “their” memorials in Washington, D.C.
“Since the dedication of the World War II Memorial in 2004, it has been the desire of WWII veterans nationwide to visit this commemorative tribute dedicated to the military and to those who contributed on the home front,” Whitaker says. “The sad fact is that World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day. Many veterans are well into their senior years and are unable to travel or lack the funds to go to Washington, D.C.”
Whitaker, owner of Whitaker Funeral Homes in Newberry and Chapin, learned about the Honor Flight Network from a colleague in Connecticut and at a presentation at the Chapin Sunrise Rotary Club meeting.
As incoming president of the National Funeral Directors Association, he was fortunate to be invited to attend the World War II Memorial dedication and was saddened that his own father and father-in-law, both World War II veterans, were unable to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C before dying. Whitaker decided to apply to be a guardian to accompany veterans on the April 21 Honor Flight out of Columbia.
The “guardians” on trips pay for their own travel expenses and make monetary contributions to the Honor Flight Network which help enable the network to send veterans on the trip at no cost.
The guardians have responsibilities to fulfill for one or two veterans. First, they make sure the veterans understand all directions, assist with any health-related issues and make sure that the veterans get to do and see what they want as much as possible.
Whitaker said he met a number of the veterans at a tour of Ft. Jackson a few days prior to the Honor Flight.
“The start of several ceremonial activities were both patriotic and emotional,” he said. “South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford met the entourage at the airport prior to our leaving South Carolina. A military band played and the walkway to the plane was decorated. Our pilot and flight attendants were dressed in red, white and blue. When we landed in Washington, we were greeted with a water arch from the airport fire trucks, an honor not often bestowed.
“People in the airport gave the veterans a hearty ovation and after boarding our busses, we were treated to an escort from the park police all the way to the World War II Memorial.”
The group toured the World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, and also had a tour of Arlington National Cemetery.
John Metzler, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, paid a visit to the veterans on the bus.
The visitors then observed the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Upon their return, the veterans were greeted by friends, family and well-wishers at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
“A military band played again and the Boy Scouts and a number of veterans groups were present to welcoming them back,” Whitaker described. “The Knights of Columbus gave the veterans a Sword Salute and several hundred people were waving American flags, applauding and whistling. There were many tears.”
The Honor Flight made a profound impression on the local funeral director.
“I would like very much to do this again. Since the Honor Flight, I've stayed in touch with ‘my’ veteran, sharing with him photos and stories of our trip. There are men and women who sacrificed a lot during WW II, but were never recognized for their efforts. I truly regret that my father and father-in-law did not get to visit this memorial prior to their deaths. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of this program.“
Since the inaugural Honor Flight in May 2005, more than 35,000 veterans have been transported to Washington, D.C. through the network. The April 21 Honor Flight from Columbia included 108 veterans and 75 guardians, 16 of whom were Vietnam veterans themselves.
For more information on the Honor Flight Network, call 937-521-2400 or visit HYPERLINK http://www.honorflight.org www.honorflight.org.