TULSA — Following a rousing patriotic send-off ceremony at the SpiritBank Event Center in south Tulsa on Tuesday night, 87 World War II and Korean War veterans from eastern Oklahoma woke early Wednesday morning to board a charter flight bound for Washington, D.C.
The 18th Oklahoma Honor Flight carried the veterans — each with an assigned guardian — on a whirlwind one-day tour of monuments in the nation’s capitol and back.
A dozen vehicles from the Tulsa Police Department escorted the three busses carrying veterans to and from Tulsa International Airport. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett personally greeted each veteran at the airport. After landing in Baltimore, the VIP treatment continued as a detail of National Park law enforcement vehicles escorted the veteran motorcade to and from monuments, often stopping busy traffic for the charter busses.
The first stop on the itinerary was the World War II Memorial.
Dedicated to “The Greatest Generation,” the memorial celebrates “a generation of American who emerged from the Depression to fight and win the most devastating war in world history,” according to National Park Service literature. Funded mostly by private donations, the memorial was begun in September 2001 and dedicated on May 29, 2004.
Upon visiting the World War II Memorial for the first time, veteran Donald Shaub of Bartlesville was impressed with the large oval plaza’s columns surrounding a serene reflection pool and fountains.
“Its really impressive, I can’t imagine some man developing something like this in his mind and then carrying it through, ...and all the quotations that they’ve got there are really meaningful,” said Shaub. “It’s just a tremendous undertaking to cut and polish all these stones. It’s just impressive.”
One of 40 WWII veterans making the trip, Shaub served in the U.S. Army 66th Infantry Division in Europe from 1944-46. He is a survivor of a sunken troop ship in the English Channel in which 802 fellow soldiers lost their lives.
Shaub heard about the Oklahoma Honor Flight program from a friend who encouraged him to go.
“I’m glad to be here,” said Shaub. “I’ve met a few friends.”
Clad in light blue shirts, the Oklahoma veterans gathered at the base of the column bearing the “Oklahoma” inscription to pose for photographs. Before departing the monument, the Oklahomans were greeted briefly by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe.
Accompanying each of the veterans were an equal number of red-shirted “guardians.” Many of the guardians were sons or daughters of veterans sharing a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Some were volunteers who met their assigned veteran for the first time on the trip. All paid their own way to assist the veterans on this momentous occasion.
One veteran in particular had a joyful, albeit brief, encounter with his grown son at the Korean War Veterans Memorial later in the afternoon.
Korean War veteran Robert Sohl, originally from Iowa, now makes his retirement home in south Tulsa. The Air Force veteran came from a family of six brothers, all who served in the military. Now, another generation is carrying on the proud family tradition.
His son, Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, serves as commander, Fleet Readiness Centers and as Assistant Commander for Logistics and Industrial Operations, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
“We were able to make contact with him,” said the elder Sohl. “He happened to be at a meeting at the Pentagon.”
The admiral was able to get out of his meeting at the nearby Pentagon in time to meet is father at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The father and son greeted one another and posed for photos at the monument.
“A bunch of photographs were taken,” said Robert Sohl. “That was extra special.”
Veterans were also treated to the Iwo Jim Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, as well as changing of the guard and daily wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was still in store for the veterans’ return home. Once off the plane at Tulsa International Airport, a crowd of approximately 300, including friends and family members, Patriot Guard riders, the Tulsa Homeschool Orchestra, a costumed honor guard from the Sons of the American Revolution and other well-wishers formed a line of appreciation extending all the way to the exits. The crowd waved flags and warmly greeted each veteran as they made their way through the terminal.
Since 2010, Oklahoma Honor Flights has flown 1,596 WWII veterans to the nation’s capitol.
Veterans from throughout eastern Oklahoma making the trip, including one female veteran, served in every branch of service and numerous capacities during WWII and the Korean War. Another Honor Flight departing Oklahoma City is scheduled for October.
For more information about the Oklahoma Honor Flights program, log on to www.oklahomahonorflights.org.