The red carpet was rolled out for six area veterans, albeit in whirlwind fashion as the former soldiers and seamen were guests of honor on Mission #26 of the Great River Honor Flight program that traveled to Washington D.C. on August 28th.
World War II veteran Ivan Woods along with Korean War vets Bill Hall, Dick Johnson, Bob Carney, Lloyd Gordy and Bruce Normile were among the group of 33 servicemen who were joined by family members, guardians and volunteers on the 24-hour trip to the nation’s capital to provide the opportunity for troops to see firsthand the war memorials they were meant to be honored by.
“I met Dick and Bruce in Baring at midnight,” said Korean War veteran Bill Hall of Memphis. “We got to Hannibal about 1:30 in the morning for the pre-flight meeting.”
Participants and their individual guardians checked in at the Partee Center on the Hannibal LaGrange college campus where they were treated to breakfast courtesy of the Clover Road Christian Church.
They loaded the bus for St. Louis and departed at 2:30 a.m., arriving at their destination around 4:15 a.m. for the Southwest flight that was scheduled for a 6:15 a.m. departure.
The group touched down in Baltimore and took a bus to the nation’s capital for a day of sightseeing that included stops at the World War II, Korean and Vietnam war memorials as well as the Marine, Air Force, Iwo Jima and Lincoln memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
“You definitely get up and go,” said Hall of the fast-paced travel. “You don’t spend very long in any one place, but it was very well organized with plenty of opportunities to see some amazing sites.”
The Korean Memorial was a special stop for the local boys as five of the six had served in the war. Woods was the lone WW II vet in the local group.
“It has changed a lot since I first saw it,” said Ivan Woods. “I had visited the World War II Memorial as part of the 757 Tank battalion reunion several years ago, but it wasn’t finished yet. It is way more impressive now.”
Woods said this trip was also much more satisfying for him, as his daughter, Bonnie Woods Schultz, was able to accompany him as his guardian, and she was able to share her first experience with him.
“The trip was long, exhausting, exciting, and one in a million,” she said. “Father was very impressed.”
Brian Gordy, who traveled with his father, Korean War veteran Loyd Gordy of Arbela echoed those sentiments.
“The honor flight program is amazing to say the least,” he said. “The organization of the flight and the things these guys get to see is well worth the short amount of time you have to make the trip. Twenty-four hours seems like a long time to make a trip like that but time stands still while you are there and you don’t feel the effects until you let down the next day. I wish every veteran could witness what we did and hope that the flights continue well into the future. The veterans you are with and the sights that you visit will change how you look at a lot of things in your own life. It was an honor for me to help with this flight and hope many others can experience the same wonderful things that we did.”
The trip to Washington D.C. was the first for Hall, who served in the United States Navy from 1952-56.
“I never would have made this trip if it wasn’t for the Honor Flight program, and the prodding of Johnson,” Hall confessed referring to fellow trip participant Dick Johnson, a high school friend of Hall’s who also served in the Korean War.
For fellow Korean vet Loyd Gordy, not only was it his first trip to the nation’s capital, it was his first airline travel experience.
“I had never been on an airplane before let alone to Washington, D.C.,” he confessed. “I just don’t have the words to express what this meant to me.”
Hall noted that the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery was the highlight of the trip for him, adding that he also particularly enjoyed the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Loyd Gordy highlighted the Korean Memorial wall, which was artistically designed to portray the faces of the various soldier statutes on the opposite memorial garden.
“That was impressive,” he said. “So was the Iwo Jima statue. I never would have believed it but the bus driver told us to watch the flag as we circled the statue. It gave the illusion that it was actually being raised to stand straight.”
The tours came to a close around 3:30 p.m. with travel back to Reagan National Airport for a return flight to St. Louis that touched down back in Missouri around 8 p.m.
The group of three Vietnam veterans, four World War II veterans, and 26 Korean War veterans arrived back in Hannibal at the Hannibal LaGrange College at 10:30 p.m. led by a motorcade of flag wielding bikers that numbered nearly 100 and escorted the bus from the St. Louis airport on its trip back north.
Hall said the route home was often lined with fire trucks and police cars or groups of well wishers at over passes and other spots cheering on the bus as it traveled home.
“It was a little overwhelming for most of us I think,” said Hall. I suspect most veterans are like me, not really feeling like they deserve a hero’s welcome, but all of these folks went out of their way to make us feel special.”
The bus was greeted back at the HLGU campus by a large crowd of well wishers and a reception was awaiting the veterans when they stepped off the bus.
“Everybody and their dog was there, waving flags and cheering for us,” said Woods, who had two grandsons take part in the bikers’ motorcade escort. “For me, World War II ended on the 10th day of 1945, but here, so many years later, are all of these people shaking my hand and thanking me for my service – it was humbling.”
Another special touch for the veterans was mail call.
“That was always a big deal in the service, anytime you got something from back home,” Hall said.
Organizers put together packets of cards from Hannibal school students and other well wishers as well as special notes from home.
“I think I had 27 letters from friends and relatives as well as some others,” said Hall. “I had just celebrated my birthday a few days before, so that made it even more special.”
Veterans making the Mission #26 of the Great River Honor Flight program included: Paul Aegerter, Dave Bigelow, Dick Brinkmeyer, Cliff Brown, Bill Browning, Paul Buckert, Bob Carney, Roger Clement, Norm Dodson, Frank Drummond, Marvin Duncan, Harold Evans, Ted Fortner, Leroy Frazier, Dennis Frazier, Bob Garner, Loyd Gordy, James Hall, Paul Hildebrand, Henry Holtkamp, Dick Johnson, Delb Lane, Earl Lindsey, Bruce Normile, Bud Priebe, Wayne Sander, John Sander, Herb Steinkamp, Jon Sterner, Jack Tuttle, Gerald Wainman, Stanley Wilson, and Ivan Woods.
“I’d definitely serve as an ambassador for the program,” said Loyd Gordy. “It is amazing how well they take care of the veterans and how well it is organized. I’d advise anyone that has the chance to take an Honor Flight.”
For more information on the program visit http://www.wgem.com/category/176396/-wgem-honor-flight. Donations to help support the program can be sent to Great River Honor Flight, 513 Hampshire, Quincy, Illinois 62301 or Great River Honor Flight,
Box 80, Quincy, Illinois 62306.