By WILLIAM J. KELLY
First of two parts
WOW! What an experience! I have done many things, been to many places, but I must say that the Honor Flight ranks right up there with the best of those occasions.
It was fabulous, a super event for all the 25 elderly veterans on the flight. There were three veterans from Weatherford on the flight – Lee Wheyford, Navy; Tommy Thompson, Army Air Corps; and me, William J. Kelly, Army Air Corps.
I learned that most people do not know about the Honor Flight, so for those of you who might not know it is a flight to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans to see the memorial honoring them for their military service. There is no cost to the veterans for the trip. We World War II veterans, when we came home in 1945 or 1946, just took off our uniforms, hung them in a closet and then went to work or to college. We had given up five or six years of our normal life so we had to get going and fast.
Eventually Tom Brokaw, for our many accomplishments in both the military and as civilians, called us
“The Greatest Generation.”
World War II veterans did not clamor for a monument to their service and none was built. We just wanted to clear our minds of the death and destruction of war, which is not easy to do, and get on with our lives. We did just that! A common remark you hear from children of World War II vets is “my dad did not talk much about his World War II experiences.”
In the year 1987, a veteran named Roger Durban, of Berkey, Ohio, while talking to Congresswoman Marcy Kapton, wondered why there was no World War II memorial in Washington D.C., this was 42 years after the end of the war. That simple remake set in motion the efforts to build a monument to those who fought and died to preserve liberty for our citizens and the western world.
This monument was finally completed and dedicated on May 29 by then National Chairman Sen. Bob Dole. Now the World War II veterans were out of their youth and in their 80s, no longer in their fighting shape physically as they were in the 1940s. Time was not on their side, it just keeps marching on. Many veterans were either too ill, too disabled, too weak or financially unable to make the trip alone. That is the reason the Honor Flight came into being.
“The Honor Flight recognizes veterans for your sacrifices and achievements by having you fly, to Washington, D.C., to see the monument. The priority is given to World War II and terminally ill veterans from all wars. Trained honor flight guardians fly with each veteran on every flight, providing assistance and helping veterans have a safe, memorable and rewarding experience.”
“For what you and your comrades have given to us, please consider this flight a small token of appreciation from all of us at Honor Flight Fort Worth.”
Those paragraphs are from the Veterans application packet.
We all applied and some time later I received a call from Sandy Linde-Ellis. Sandy is a Weatherford-area resident and is president/co-founder of Honor Flight Fort Worth. We were put on a flight leaving on April 16. An information form advised us of a reception at the Botanical Gardens on April 7 for all on the flight and their families.
Fourteen members of my family attended the reception, plus Carl “Pete” Johnson and his son, Roger. Pete was the toggleleir on my B-17 bomber crew. Sandy invited them when I told her they were visiting me at the time.
The reception was a wonderful occasion. At sign-in we were given a packet that contained our schedule of events and a gift bag consisting of an Honor Flight jacket, shirt and cap to wear on the trip. About that time I heard someone back of me say, “He’s mine,” and it was my guardian for the trip, Judy Cohen. The minute I met her I knew I was going to enjoy having her as my guardian for the flight. Judy had located my bomber crew picture on the computer and made copies of it. She located Pete and I on the photo, we had not changed that much (laugh here).
We had all sent pictures in with our application as requested, and to our surprise an electronic presentation had been produced and was shown on the screen. Old WWII posters were included and they brought back forgotten memories. Naval Capt. Benedict, commander of our Naval Air Station, made a short and very apropos talk to the group. He impressed everyone! I noticed he had a purple heart ribbon with an oak leaf cluster, indicating he was wounded in combat. I am sure he is a great leader.
Sandy then introduced each of us to the crowd. Sandy did a great presentation as emcee. After she closed the meeting we all mingled as at any party and I got to know my sponsor, she was enthusiastic and friendly and was also looking forward to the flight. It was a day for making new friends.
I will tell you about the flight to D.C. in part two of this article.
William J. Kelly is a Weatherford resident and frequent contributor to Viewpoints.