Honor Flight says thanks to WWII, Korean Veterans
By Andy Rieger
Oklahoma Press Association
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pre-schooler Colt Tener learned the word veteran and the importance of honoring our nation’s military heroes in his Noble school this month.
He carefully drew a picture for a veteran, made a sign and proudly held it up Wednesday night along with hundreds of others as they welcomed home the 21st Oklahoma Honor Flight at Will Rogers World Airport.
Colt, 4, and his family, the OSU softball team, the Noble Bears football team, a small orchestra and other groups were on hand as the Veterans returned to Oklahoma. Colt got a personal greeting from Paul Perryman, a World War II Army Veteran from Prue.
The 81 Oklahomans — 55 World War II and 26 Korean War Veterans — took a whirlwind, 19-hour trip to the nation’s capital to visit memorials built to honor them. For many, it was a trip filled with gratitude 70 years after the end of World War II.
“It’s a new experience for me,” said Army Veteran Calvert Dukes, 95, of Moore. “All of my life, I’ve never had complete strangers thank me like this.”
Dukes described the WWII memorial as, “Fantastic. Humongous.”
A Patriot Guard motorcycle group and Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers escorted the three-bus motorcade from Midwest City’s Reed Center to the airport early Wednesday. Well-wishers were waiting for them at Will Rogers and at the Baltimore airport when the charter Miami Air jet landed.
Dukes said when he returned home to southwest Oklahoma after his discharge his parents picked him up at the bus station. There was no parade or crowd like the one waiting for him Thursday night.
In World War II, he was called on to repair flamethrowers.
“The history books say we didn’t have flamethrowers but I got about 500 of them working,” he said.
Three members of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford and U.S. Rep. Steve Russell — greeted the Veterans, age 82 to 95 and their red-shirted volunteer caregivers.
The group boarded buses after its charter flight landed in Baltimore before noon. A police escort hurried them to the WWII memorial, the Korean and Vietnam War memorials and Lincoln Monument before a visit to the Iwo Jima Marine Corps memorial and a drive-by of the Air Force Memorial and Pentagon.
They also were on hand for a changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
On a warm, muggy Washington day, the aging men and women Veterans showed their hardiness and stamina. Few complained of the trip’s pace. On the way home, Veterans were given thank you letters and pictures drawn by local children.
“This is a generation worthy of honor and any time I can represent the state and welcome them to Washington I will do it,” said U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. “They rebuilt a country that was in shambles after the Depression.”
Three sets of brothers made the trip. Navy Veterans Glenn St. John, 90, of Edmond and Robert St. John, 88, of Norman were among them. Frank Campbell and Melton Campbell from Enid were there as were Frank Schemm of Broken Arrow and Robert Shcemm of Choctaw.
“It’s very nice,” Robert St. John said of the trip. “And we were inundated by Congressional people here.”
George Bellmon, 91, of Enid, had seen the WWII memorial before but wanted to see it again.
“I think it’s great,” said Bellmon, a Marine tank commander like his older brother former Governor and U.S. Senator Henry Bellmon. “I want to take a better look at it now.”
He said the visit brought back many emotions from the war.
Jim Noble of Alva was on a landing craft at D-Day. He was accompanied by his daughter, Joy Rhodes. A granddaughter, Amanda Good, met him in Washington for the day’s tour.
“There’s an awful lot of water here,” Noble said of the monument.
Tom Henderson, 87, of Noble served in Japan at war’s end. He was accompanied by retired OU professor Phil Lujan.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get here,” Henderson said. “It’s taken me quite a while.”
Marine Veteran Paul Branson, 95, of Oklahoma City, was posted to the U.S.S. Arizona when Japanese bombers struck the base at Pearl Harbor. He had left the ship the evening before to go hunting. He was crossing a schoolyard when the planes struck.
“I never got back to the ship. I was too busy shooting at the Japs.”
Retired Shawnee Banker Bill Rapp, called the WWII memorial “beautiful.”
“I think that they must have studied a lot to put this thing together,” he said.
State Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, and his wife, Linda, head up the state’s Honor Flights which are organized by a non-profit charity. They have taken more than 1,900 men and women Veterans to the Capitol. Two more trips are planned.
“Unless someone acts on their behalf, our World War II veterans were not going to see the memorial built to honor them,” Banz said at a patriotic sendoff ceremony Tuesday night in Midwest City.
Since 2010, the flights have departed from Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton. Cost is about $107,000 per trip, none of which is paid by Veterans. Guardian caregivers pay $500 to accompany a relative or a Veteran paired with them.
“This honor flight is one small way to recognize you,” said Linda Banz.
ALL PHOTOS BY ANDY RIEGER
Vet at memorial - "An Oklahoma Veteran views the World War II Memorial Wednesday in Washington, D.C."
Colt Tener, Noble - "Colt Tener, 4, of Noble, awaits the returning Veterans at Will Rogers World Airport Wednesday evening."
Noble Tom Henderson - "Army veteran Tom Henderson of Noble was among the 81 Veterans making Wednesday's flight."
Welcome home - "A crowd welcomes Veterans home Wednesday night at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City."
Enid - "U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, left, visits with World War II Marine Veteran George Bellmon of Enid at the World War II Memorial Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Bellmon joined 80 other Veterans on the 21st Oklahoma Honor Flight."
Branson, OKC - "Paul C. Branson, a World War II and Pearl Harbor survivor, visits the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Branson was one of 81 Veterans on the 21st Oklahoma Honor Flight Wednesday."
Alva, Jim Noble - "Navy World War II Veteran Jim Noble of Alva was part of the Oklahoma Honor Flight that took 81 World War II and Korean War Veterans to Washington, D.C. Wednesday."