Group shot of veterans on the June 4, 2014, Oklahoma Honor Flight. Photo by Bryan Painter, The Oklahoman. (Right click to download printable version of photo.)
Oklahoma veterans view memorials in Washington, D.C.
By Bryan Painter, The Oklahoman
for the Oklahoma Press Association
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Within minutes of Oklahoma veterans walking into WWII Memorial, the sounds of the playing of taps cut the thick June air.
Veterans, members of the 17th Oklahoma Honor Flights trip to the nation's capital, stopped.
Jaws tightened. Eyes moistened. They went back. They'd served faithfully in various branches of the military and a wide-range of locations. On this day, June 4, they all went back 70 years or more to where the heaven of youth met the hell of war.
It was a time of black and white photos, but today their memories were crisp and so colorful.
Those colors were a mix of pain and respect.
Taps was more than a sound to the ears of Bob Ogden Jr., 88, of Oklahoma City, a World War II Navy veteran. The emotions were evident behind the wire-rimmed glasses and as he swallowed hard.
You see, 71 years ago to the day a 17-year-old Ogden arrived at the Farragut Naval Training Station in the Panhandle of Idaho. Officially, he was in until March 1946, but in reality he was in for a lifetime. The trip to the World II Memorial reaffirmed that.
For a few minutes after taps ended, he said nothing - couldn't.
Then straining, Ogden looked around the World War II Memorial and softly shared, "I'm glad I'm here today to see all of this."
The Oklahoma Honor Flights
The first Oklahoma Honor Flights trip was taken in May 2010.
In all, there have been 17 flights with 1,596 veterans having participated.
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, "Giving to the Grounded Greatest Generation." So far these special events have been held at five of the seven long-term care Veteran Centers supported by the state of Oklahoma. Ceremonies are scheduled for June 27 at Ardmore and July 11 at Talihina.
In terms of the flights, the June 4 trip included 64 World War II veterans, 14 Korean War veterans and three Vietnam War veterans. They came from Woodward to Idabel and so many communities in between.
In truth, it was two days of well-orchestrated, well-deserved honor, starting the evening before the flight with a send-off ceremony at Rose State College.
Then in the early morning hours of June 4, veterans and guardians took a seat on one of four buses. Cutting the darkness was the flashing lights of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol motorcycles escorting the caravan to Will Rogers World Airport. Patriot Guard Riders also joined in to show their respect to the veterans going on the trip. And as the buses left the parking lot passing under the ladder arch formed by the ladders of Del City and Midwest City fire trucks.
The emotional day included water cannon salutes by fire trucks at Will Rogers and at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to the airplane of the veterans. The veterans visited the World War II Memorial and several other memorials in Washington and received mail call letters from schoolchildren, just to name a few of the events of the day-long trip.
Then as the trip's end neared, goose bumps found their way to the veteran's arms. 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 University of Oklahoma students, including members of the RUF/NEKS.
Gary Banz, executive director of the Oklahoma Honor Flights, said, "Whether the memories have been on the surface all these years or if they were suppressed, a trip like that allows folks to deal with them. And it allows extended family members to understand, maybe to a greater extent, the toll of the impact of war on their loved ones."
Again, each of these veterans had served their country. But on this day, they served the memories of others.
Take for example, World War II Army veteran Carl Brashier of Del City. Seated at the back of the third of three 56-passenger buses, he was stunned at the seemingly endless rows of white marble headstones as the caravan weaved through Arlington National Cemetery.
"Who could have imagined this?" he said more than once, shaking his head.
Throughout the day, as he walked through the World War II Memorial or visited Arlington, Brashier's memories, decades old, poured from the heart.
"I think of all the buddies who stayed over there," he said. "You're with them and then all of a sudden you're under attack, and they're wounded. You don't know if they lived or died. The older I get the more I think about it. It's just something you don't outlive. So I'm thankful that the World War II memorial and the others remember those boys who didn't come home."