Honor Flight-Main Story

BY MARK Thomas, Oklahoma Press Association


There isn’t anything special when 83 grey-headed, old men and women get together.

They have names familiar to that generation, like Clarence, Carl, Elmer, Delmar, Farris, Eual, Herman, Howard, Owen, Grady and Vern.

Some come from big cities like OKC, Tulsa, Moore, Enid and Ada. Others are from smaller towns such as Addington, Jay, Beaver, Perkins, Mulhall, Meeker, Roland and Roff.

They may live around any corner with typical addresses on Cedar Ridge Road, North 10th, South 13th, Andover Court, Victoria Drive and Lamp Post Lane.

You can find them all over the 405, and the 918, and the 580.

When they were teenagers many of them quit school to travel the world with extended stays in Guam, Saipan, Korea, Burma, Japan, North Africa, Italy, Belgium, France and Germany.

They held some interesting jobs in their younger days. Radio Operator, Navigator, Cryptographer, Paratrooper, Squad Leader, Pilot, Medic, Gunner and Cook.

Certain alphanumeric combinations trigger a flood of memories. Combinations like B-17, B-24, C-47, 1st Army, 3rd Army, 8th Air Force, 82nd Airborne and 95th Bomber Group.

Ears perk up when they hear The Caisson Song, Anchors Aweigh, Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder, Always Ready and The Marines’ Hymn.

These are the 83 Oklahoma men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine who embarked on their latest adventure, a trip to Washington, D.C., to see memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifice.

The non-profit organization, Oklahoma Honor Flights, completed its 13th flight from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C., on June 5, 2013, with 83 veterans and their personal guardians. Oklahoma Honor Flights has now taken 1,271 veterans to see these memorials.

The evening before the 13th Honor Flight was to depart, a reception was held in recognition of these veterans and their families at Rose State College in Midwest City, Okla. The crowd of family, friends and volunteers applauded long and loud as The Parade of Patriots brought each veteran into the auditorium escorted by a current military man or woman.

The Presentation of Colors – followed by The National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and Singing of the Service Songs for each branch of the military – are more heartfelt when you have lived out the meaning of every word.

At the end of the evening, each veteran handed a copy of the United States Constitution to his or her escorting soldier. They listened intently as the next generation of defenders pledged to uphold and defend that same constitution.

The following morning veterans and their volunteer guardians boarded busses at 4 a.m. for a police-escorted trip to Will Rogers World Airport. They would return to that same location at 9:30 that night to a roar of applause from people waiting for the return of their husbands, brothers, fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers.

While in Washington, D.C., the veterans were able to visit seven memorial sites, including the World War II Memorial that was dedicated in 2004. The memorial reminds future generations that we must sometimes sacrifice for causes greater than ourselves.

The trip continued to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and Tomb of the Unknowns, U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial and the Air Force Memorial. Each of these memorials is a testament, in its own unique way, to the tragedies of war and the hardships people face in times of crisis.

Oklahoma has seen its share of tragedy, hardship and crisis. In recent weeks storms have battered the state, and we’ve not only seen an outpouring of care from a concerned nation, but neighbors helping neighbors in what has become known as The Oklahoma Standard.

There are several ways to describe The Oklahoma Standard, a phrase coined by the national media observing recovery efforts after the 1995 Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City. But maybe The Oklahoma Standard was there all along.

Our veterans epitomize that standard. They ran toward danger rather than from it. Every call was answered. They put others ahead of their own desires. They were ordinary citizens showing resilience in the face of adversity. They repeatedly demonstrated strength and compassion and refused to be defeated.

There are 235 veterans on the waiting list for future trips. And yet, Oklahoma Honor Flights still asks for the public’s help identifying more WWII veterans who have not been able to see these memorials. They live in your town, and maybe on your street. They all need to be recognized for their service and for being models on how we should act in times of crisis.

On an Oklahoma Honor Flight, it isn’t just special when 83 grey-headed, old men and women get together. It’s fantastic.


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