Military Yearbook 2012: Honor Flight offers ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip for veteransWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaming from ear to ear and waving two American flags to the music of a concert band, World War II veteran Jim Hansen expressed himself perfectly, even though he can no longer talk. The 90-year-old Toledoan, who served with the Navy in the South Pacific, exuded joy during a June 20 welcome home celebration at the Grand Aire hangar in Swanton following Honor Flight Northwest Ohio’s most recent trip.
The nonprofit organization flies veterans to Washington, D.C., free of charge to visit the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial and other military memorials. Each veteran is accompanied by a guardian.
“He found out he was going on his 90th birthday,” said Hansen’s daughter Linda Yielding of Sylvania. “It was his 90th birthday present.”
Linda’s husband, Wayne Yielding, was Hansen’s guardian for the trip, which included 74 World War II veterans and two Korean War veterans. Two of the World War II veterans also served during the Korean War.
“The reception in D.C. was wonderful,” Wayne said. “It was pretty moving to say the least.”
Cherie Mourlam, assistant superintendent at Washington Local Schools, agreed.
“You just bawl all day,” said Mourlam, who accompanied 86-year-old World War II veteran Grover “Gene” Thorp of Fremont. “Then you walk in here and there’s the whole crowd and they’re clapping. He’s just so appreciative. He can’t believe it.”
Thorp, who served with the Army in the South Pacific, said he couldn’t pick a favorite part of the trip.
“Oh golly, all day,” Thorp said. “It was great. I can’t believe it.”
World War II veteran Donnan “Don” Marten, 90, of Bowling Green said he had a great trip, despite a heat index higher than 100 degrees.
“It was hotter than the devil, but they (Honor Flight) deserve a lot of credit,” said Marten, who served with the Army in Africa and Italy. “It was nice. It was beautiful, especially the Iwo Jima Memorial (United States Marine Corps War Memorial).”
Marten’s daughter, Deb Marten of Bowling Green, said her dad considered backing out of the trip because of the extreme heat, but was glad he decided to go. Marten’s grandson, Dane Fisher, stationed at nearby Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, even took the day off to meet up with his grandfather.
“It was wonderful he got to make that trip,” Deb said. “He’s been really excited. He went back and forth with the heat, ‘Should I go?’ But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m glad he did. He’ll never forget it.”
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 606 is among the local veterans organizations whose members attend each Honor Flight send-off and welcome-home celebration.
“You’ll see some go up in wheelchairs and when they come back they’ll say they can walk off the plane,” said VFW Post 606 member Bob Newman. “They get so pumped up over there seeing that stuff. One guy this morning (June 20) said while boarding the plane, ‘Wait, wait, I want to walk.’ He used a cane and went very, very slowly, but he made it. So the guy behind him in a wheelchair said, ‘Well, if he can do it, so can I.’ That’s just the way it is.”
Jerry Newman, also of VFW Post 606, has flown three times as a guardian.
“It’s always nice to be out there by these guys. You hear a lot of history on these flights,” Jerry said.
Priority for Honor Flights is given to World War II veterans and those with terminal illnesses. Korean War veterans are put on a waiting list and taken chronologically by their application postmark date.
“It’s a wonderful way of giving back to the members of ‘The Greatest Generation,’ many of whom did not get a welcome home,” said Honor Flight Northwest Ohio board member David Chilson. “Not everybody came back on a troop ship or through a train station. Many came back individually and were really never welcomed home or thanked for their service so this is a way of doing that.”
Chilson, a Navy veteran, has served as a guardian on nine Honor Flights.
“Honor Flight is much more than just seeing the memorials. It’s a chance to share the experience of the entire day with 70-some other veterans,” Chilson said. “What I hope they take away is that people still remember and are very appreciative for their service during World War II and during the Korean War and we still remember and honor them.”
World War II veteran Edward F. Lark of Toledo was scheduled to fly on June 20, but died in April. His folded flag was taken along in his honor and memory. His widow, Violet Lark, did not travel to Washington, D.C., but teared up as she carried the flag into the welcome home ceremony.
“They knew he wanted to go on this flight so bad and they said they would like to take the flag with them,” Lark said, adding that June 23 would have been the couple’s 67th wedding anniversary.
Army veteran Henrietta “Hank” Abrams, 87, said the trip was wonderful, but emotional.
“I cried so much today,” said Abrams, who served as a surgical technician in Texas and Iowa during World War II. “It was just wonderful. I really enjoyed it. It was amazing, it really was. I can’t really point out one thing. It was all just great.”
Navy veteran Marian Elfring of Swanton was a radio operator on the West Coast during World War II, while her husband, Marine Corps veteran Tony Elfring, served in the South Pacific, including at Iwo Jima. The couple made the June 20 trip together, accompanied by a mother-daughter team of guardians.
World War II veteran Walter “Bud” Rickheim Jr., of Temperance, said he loved the whole experience.
“It was a wonderful day, couldn’t be better,” said Rickheim, who served with the Navy in the Pacific. “It was all just great.”
The Honor Flight network, which includes 101 regional hubs in 39 states, was founded in 2005 and has flown more than 81,000 veterans to the memorials in Washington, D.C. The Northwest Ohio chapter started in 2008 and has since flown 1,083 veterans. June 20 was the group’s 25th flight and the third of five scheduled for 2012. The next flights are Aug. 29 and Sept. 26.
For more information or to apply as a veteran, guardian or volunteer, visit honorflightnwo.org.