John Ferguson, a reporter for the Broken Arrow Ledger, accompanied veterans on the April 30, 2014, Honor Flight. Following is an article, sidebar and photos by Ferguson. Ferguson accompanied the veterans on the trip, which left from Tulsa, on behalf of the Oklahoma Press Association.
Please look over the attached list to see if a veteran from your community was on this Honor Flight trip. Honor Flight provides veterans with photos taken on their visit to the memorials. You may want to contact veterans from your community for a feature story and photo.
PHOTO FOR USE WITH MAIN STORY AND SIDEBAR:
CUTLINE: Cecil Gomez of Sand Springs, in wheelchair, gets a warm greeting by some Virginia Middle School students that formed a corridor for the Oklahoma veterans to enter the World War II Memorial during the 16th Oklahoma Honor Flight on April 30. (Photo by John Ferguson)
By John Ferguson
Broken Arrow Ledger
The Oklahoma Honor Flight that takes military veterans to Washington, D.C., completed its 16th mission on April 30.
The organization has flown 1,515 vets from World War II and the Korean War to see the monuments and sights at the nation's Capitol.
There is only one problem now.
The organization has run out of World War II vets to honor with this day trip to D.C. Organizer Gary Banz of Midwest City said the World War II waiting list has been exhausted.
Most World War II vets are in their 80s or 90s and Banz would like get as many to Washington as possible. Banz wants to get the word out that World War II vets can still go on these twice yearly trips. Just go to http://oklahomahonorflights.org and click on the applications link.
The next flight out of the Oklahoma City area is set for June 4. The next Tulsa takeoff is scheduled for sometime in September. The date has not been confirmed.
Ralph Weeks of Grove was the oldest veteran on this trip. The ex-Army 1st Lt. turned 100 years old last August, but still managed to enjoy all the sights.
The Honor Flight had 82 veterans, 66 from World War II and 16 from Korea. Each veteran had a guardian assigned to them,
There were two surprises awaiting the Oklahoma delegation: Constant rain and a Virginia Middle School group.
The veterans fought the rain, but never complained. The students from the Rocky Run school from Chantilly, Va., were there specifically for the Oklahoma group.
The students and teachers waited at the World War II Memorial during some of the day's hardest rains. They formed two lines so the veterans could walk between them. The students cheered, waved flags and gave each Oklahoma veteran a personalized thank you placard.
It was the perfect way to start the sightseeing tour even on a dreary day.
"Rain or shine, we're out here," said Jamie Sawatzky, Rocky Run history teacher of waiting for their "adopted" veterans.
"For the last 14 years, we've had veterans come speak to us," said Maggie Brown, another Rocky Run history teacher. "Coming here in the rain to see them is nothing compared to what they had to endure [during the war]."
"I love this," said Tulsa vet J.W. Caywood, 89. "They've really done this nice."
Joe Looper, another Tulsa veteran, enjoyed the World War II monument.
"Yes, I'm enjoying this, but I am wet," Looper, 87, said with a smile. "I liked the inscriptions and seeing all the states represented and area of battles."
The veterans got another drenching at Arlington National Cemetery. The group had just arrived for the changing of the guard ceremony when the heavens opened up again.
Still, no one complained and the guard leaving the tomb of the unknown soldier paid tribute to the vets in attendance by scrapping his shoe as he exited the area. It is a known tradition many appreciated seeing on a very wet day.
Other sites visited were: The Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial Wall, and Korean War display. The three buses also drove past, but did not stop, at the Air Force Monument near the Pentagon, the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.
The best line of the day came from one of the charter flight attendants on the way home. The attendant spoke in a decidedly British accent and said, "I want to thank all of you for what you did. If you hadn't, I might be speaking another language."
SIDEBAR - Oldest member of 16th Oklahoma Honor Flight
By John Ferguson
Broken Arrow Ledger
Army veteran Ralph Weeks of Grove held the distinction of being the oldest member at 100 during the 16th Oklahoma Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., on April 30.
The fact the former Southwestern Bell employee went was no surprise to his grandson, Mike Cavenah of Mannford. Cavenah knew his grandfather was strong and sharp, especially around the golf course.
"He played golf until he was 94 years old," Cavenah said. "I never beat him in a round of golf."
After Weeks retired form the phone company in 1978, he went to work for the Shangri-La Resort and Club near Grove. Weeks got to play every day and became quite good.
Cavenah recalls a time when he shot a 78 on the easier Shangri-La Gold Course. Just hours later, his grandfather turned in a 76 on the club's Championship Course.
"I never beat the man," Cavenah said with a laugh.
Of the trip to D.C., Cavenah was his guardian and knew his grandfather had a good time despite constant rain at the military monuments.
"He loved the World War II Memorial and loved the changing of the guard [at Arlington Cemetery]," Cavenah said.
The Virginia Middle School students that waited for the Oklahoma delegation was another high point for Weeks. The students presented all the vets with personalized placards and cheered as they entered the World War II Memorial. Also, the veterans got letters from northeast Oklahoma elementary students in a mock "Mail Call" during the bus ride back to the Baltimore-Washington Airport.
The biggest surprise, however, came when the charter flight returned to Tulsa.
Almost 300 people were there to welcome home the veterans with signs, a handshake and music.
"The people that took time out to say 'Thank You' meant a lot to him," Cavenah said.