HONOR FLIGHT - Oct. 8, 2014

Bryan Painter, a columnist for The Oklahoman, accompanied veterans on the October 8, 2014, Honor Flight. Painter accompanied the veterans on the trip, which left from Oklahoma City, on behalf of the Oklahoma Press Association.
The following articles and photos, by Painter, are available for use by OPA member newspapers.
Also attached is a list of veterans who were on the flight. Please look over the list to see if a veteran from your community was on this Honor Flight trip. You may want to contact veterans from your community for a feature story and photo.
To download the list of veterans on the Oct. 8, 2014, Honor Flight, CLICK HERE.

Main Story Photos & Cutlines

Below are two photos, both by Bryan Painter, for use with the MAIN STORY. To download a high resolution of the photo, right click and save to your computer.

Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen David L. Cole, standing, greets friend and retired U.S. Army Col. John R. Burks, of Pauls Valley, on Wednesday at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Bryan Painter, The Oklahoman

Veterans salute at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Bryan Painter, The Oklahoman.






(for Oklahoma Press Association)

WASHINGTON — Retired U.S. Army Col. John R. Burks of Paul Valley will not only talk about the three wars he served in, he embraces the many friends and family who supported him along the way.
Burks is legally blind, but the 91-year-old sees the world clearly with his heart.
Burks, who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, was among 82 veterans taking Wednesday’s Oklahoma Honor Flights trip to the nation’s capital to visit the country’s war memorials.
In World War II, Burks flew 40 missions as a ball turret gunner in a B-24 bomber. Then in Korea, he was a communications officer and artillery battery commander. In Vietnam, Burks served as a deputy corps artillery commander.
There was that night in World War II when Burks never got to see the second reel of “Saratoga Trunk,” starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. Instead the crew loaded bombs and took off from “North Field on Guam” headed “to Iwo.”
In his book, “A Fair Share of War,” the Pauls Valley resident wrote that more than four hours later they were on their bomb run, “caught in the search lights from Japanese anti-aircraft units below and damaged by flak from the accurately placed ground fire.” During the Oklahoma Honor Flights, Burks expounded on that night.
“Through the entire flight, there were the realities of being so isolated at high altitude and one engine out and another one not too healthy out of the four,” Burks said. “It was meaningful to me to see how effectively our ‘Lucky Dog’ crew worked together to get us back. I mean everybody, the pilot, the co-pilot, the engineer, the assistant engineer, everybody was doing the best they could under the circumstances and I appreciate it very much.”
Eventually, the crew got one of the two failed engines working again and they made it back.
Did he ever see the end of “Saratoga Trunk”?
“No, I’m a little superstitious,” he said with a laugh. “My daughter bought me the tape years ago and I’ve never played it because of that fateful mission when I didn’t get to see the end of the movie.”
The trip this week also brought back memories from a day during the Korean War, that Burks said could have been his last.
“We were well into the northern reaches of South Korea,” Burks said. “We were trying to reach the northern rim.”
From his position in the valley, Burks saw hundreds upon hundreds of enemy troops moving south down the ridge lines.
The attack soon began.
Burks and his driver left their vehicle and “dashed into a rice paddy on the west side of the evacuation route to the south.”
“Running toward the incoming rifle fire from the flank, I was attempting to reach the base of the ridge line high ground. Not many battles are won, or survived, in a valley,” he said. “Halfway to my objective, a concussion mortar round landed to my immediate right front. The blast cart-wheeled me into a hole created by an earlier mortar burst. I was upside down, deafened by the blast and held but a single thought.”
Burks and wife Rose Marie were expecting their first child. Burks wasn’t giving up. He regrouped and along the way “picked up a score of enlisted battlefield stragglers.”
Several different forces came to help and Burks and the others reached safety.
“It took a lot of teamwork on everybody’s part,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for that.”
Extended family
The wheelchair lift of the bus eased Burks to the sidewalk at the World War II Memorial in Washington. As soon as the wheelchair touched down, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David L. Cole leaned in to hug Burks.
In the mid- to late-1960s, Cole was a young captain assigned to Burks at Fort Carson, Colo. But the Burks and Cole families became close. Daily, Cole calls Burks, “sometimes it’s just for two minutes just to see what’s going on, sometimes it’s longer.”
As Cole hugged Burks in Washington, he said, “I love you” and Burks replied, “I love you more.” Then Cole pushed Burks’ wheelchair to the Oklahoma pillar and on toward the “Freedom Wall.” They were joined by one of Burks’ daughters, Lynn Sisney, of Windsor, Colo., as well as Cole’s wife, Connie, and their daughters, Staci and Tiffani. The Coles live in the Washington area.
“We’ve often joked that we believe our families share the same DNA,” Cole said. “We all became one family. He was a tremendous leader and is a tremendous family man.”
Connie Cole said she believes Burks’ influence made her husband a better person, which made him a better husband and father.
“It’s sort of like knocking over dominoes all lined up,” Connie said. “It just passes on in a very good way.”
David Cole joked with Burks at one point that he would push him in the water at the memorial.
Burks was asked if Cole would have done that 40 years ago.
With a big smile, Burks said, “If he had, he wouldn’t be a general.”
At Arlington
Burks married Rose Marie Alexa on July 31, 1949, in Junction City, Kan., near Fort Riley.
“I had just finished officer candidate school,” Burks said as the Oklahoma Honor Flights trip Wednesday included a visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
Rose Marie died Oct. 31, 2007, and is buried at Arlington. Burks will someday be buried there as well.
On Wednesday, Sisney commented to her father, “There isn’t any prettier place that I’ve ever seen for a final resting place.”
“Or a prettier lady,” Burks added.
Sisney then remarked, “It’s such a place of honor, too.”
Her father replied, “She deserved that honor more than anyone.”

Sidebar Photo & Cutline

The following photo is for use with the sidebar. (To download a high resolution for print, right click on the photo and save to your desktop.)
CUTLINE: World War II Army veterans and brothers Arvel Winter, left, and Glen Winter, both of Meeker, are shown Tuesday at the Oklahoma Honor Flights send-off. Photo by Bryan Painter, The Oklahoman



WASHINGTON — A mother’s prayer was one of the few comforts of war, said U.S. Army veteran Arvel Winter of Meeker.
The 90-year-old got a slight head start on World War II over his younger brother, U.S. Army veteran Glen Winter, 88, also of Meeker. So was he worried about the safety of his sibling?
Arvel quickly replied, “We had a mother praying for us, we knew that.”
Arvel and Glen Winter were among two sets of brothers who went on the most recent Oklahoma Honor Flights trip to Washington, D.C. Korean War veterans Jack Post, of Shawnee, who served in the Army and Kenneth Post, of McLoud, who served in the Navy, were also among the 82 veterans on the Oct. 8 flight.
Arvel remembered a time prayers likely played a significant role in his safety – a few times over. It came in 1945 in the Philippines.
“We were out in the clearing and we couldn’t see them, they were in the bushes,” he said. “We got an order that we could try to get out of range, retreat. Our mortars attempted to cover us as we retreated out of machine gun range. All that we could do was shoot at the trees.
“A lot of our guys got hit.”
Arvel had memories of jumping from one bomb crater to the next.
“One kid was very close to me and he got hit in the shoulder and I was right behind him,” he said.
Looking back, Arvel believes that medics possibly saved his life that day. They put him on a stretcher and in an ambulance. He wasn’t bleeding, but they could tell he was ill. He was dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion.
It was soon determined he had contracted malaria and dysentery.
His temperature soared, he remembers.
“The doctor gave me a 50-50 chance of surviving,” said Arvel who was in the hospital about six weeks.
During that time he mailed a letter to his brother Glen.
Glen finally received the letter and recognized which hospital his brother was writing from.
“I drove a Jeep for a Colonel and I knew that the hospital was there on the island,” Glen said. “The Colonel let me have the Jeep to go find him.
“He had already been discharged from the hospital and sent to Base K they called it and that was across the street from where I was at.”
So Glen rushed there and was told Arvel had “shipped out yesterday.”
“I could have thrown a rock and hit his tent and didn’t know it,” Glen said. Although they didn’t get to see each other there, both returned safely to Oklahoma.
Honoring thousands
The first Oklahoma Honor Flights trip was taken in May 2010.
In all, there have been 19 flights with 1,765 veterans participating.
In addition to the flights, a new program was started in 2013. Not every veteran is physically able to make the trip to the nation’s capital. So, the board of directors of the Oklahoma Honor Flights program decided to hold “Operation 4G” ceremonies, which stands for “Giving to the Grounded Greatest Generation.” These special events have been held at the seven long-term care veteran centers supported by the state of Oklahoma.
Wednesday’s flight included 38 World War II veterans and 44 Korean War veterans from across the state.
Tribute upon tribute
The most recent Oklahoma Honor Flights experience was essentially a two-day tribute to veterans, starting the evening before the flight with a send-off ceremony at Rose State College.
Then in the early morning hours of Wednesday, veterans and guardians boarded one of four buses. Amid the early morning darkness came the flashing lights of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol motorcycles and local law enforcement escorting the caravan to Will Rogers World Airport. Patriot Guard Riders joined in to show their respect to the veterans participating in the trip. And as buses exited the Reed Center parking lot, each passed beneath the ladder arch formed by the ladders of Del City and Midwest City fire trucks.
The well-planned tribute also included water cannon salutes by fire trucks at Will Rogers and at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Once in Washington, the veterans visited the World War II Memorial and several other memorials.
Soon after leaving Arlington National Cemetery, veterans received mail call letters from schoolchildren.
Then, as the trip’s end neared, goose bumps found their way to the veteran’s arms and wide smiles to their faces. Upon returning to Will Rogers they were met by more than 300 friends, family members, a band, members of the Patriot Guard Riders, members of the Oklahoma Honor Flights board of directors and students including football team members from Noble High School.
The Oklahoma Honor Flights program is funded through donations, making it possible for veterans to take the trip at no cost. To donate or for more information about Oklahoma Honor Flights, go to oklahomahonorflights.org or call 259-9000.