Cover Story

Thank You For Your Service!

Honor Flight Program Hails a National Treasure –WWII Vets

by Bill Sherrod, Editor

 


"Thank you for your service.”        

These five simple words mean a lot to those who’ve been in the military, an affirmation that their service to country is appreciated.

To a war veteran, the thought is especially meaningful. Too often in the past, it’s been appreciation unspoken.

This is why Honor Flight began.

The program was created to remind veterans that their service is, indeed, appreciated; that people do understand that our freedoms and rights have been purchased with their service and sacrifice.

Honor Flight began in May 2005 when Earl Morse, a physician assistant, retired Air Force captain and private pilot organized an excursion with six small planes carrying 12 veterans from Ohio to the Washington, D.C., area to visit the then-new World War II Memorial.

“These were World War II veterans who might have never had the opportunity to visit their own memorial,” notes Matt Hartman, program director of the Historic Triangle Honor Flight hub. In that first year, Honor Flight safely transported 137 veterans from Ohio to their memorials at no cost to the veterans.

The following year, Hendersonville, N.C., businessman Jeff Miller founded Honor Air, chartering flights to the WWII Memorial for veterans from North Carolina. The two programs — Honor Flight and Honor Air — were combined to form the Honor Flight Network.

The idea caught on and expanded nationally. Today, the program arranges and conducts trips to the Washington, D.C., war memorials for veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to make the trip. Older veterans are given top priority if space considerations come into play.

“We’re losing World War II veterans at a rate of approximately 900 a day,” says Hartman. So, there is a sense of urgency to the Honor Flight Network’s task. Time is of the essence.

In 2011, more than 18,050 veterans were safety transported to Washing­ton, D.C., to see their memorials and the Honor Flight Network had grown to more than 110 hubs in 39 states. Honor Flight organizers estimate that by the end of 2012, the program had served more than 100,000 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam since it began.

The Historic Triangle Hub was chartered in December of 2008 by Bob Doherty and made its first excursion in May 2009, according to Hartman, current director of the hub. Hartman served 20 years in the Air Force and is currently a civilian employee of the 710th Combat Operations Squadron at Langley Air Force Base. The Historic Triangle Hub operates out of southeastern Virginia but serves the entire state and portions of northeast North Carolina.

Since 2008, the Historic Triangle Hub has transported more than 700 veterans to the service memorials in our nation’s capital. The Virginia hub makes two excursions annually, in the autumn and spring.

Applause of Appreciation

The autumn trip took place Oct. 19, 2012. As two buses departed VFW Battle­field Post 9808 in Mechanicsville, appreciative family members, friends and well-wishers lined the streets, cheering and applauding the veterans. Two more buses left from Newport News and rendezvoused at a rest stop on I-95 near Dale City with the two buses that departed from Mechanicsville.

At the Dale City stop, the vets were saluted by a veterans’ motorcycle honor guard and members of VFW Post 503. Some additional Honor Flight participants boarded the buses at Dale City. A total of 162 veterans and their guardians were aboard the four buses for the trip.

After the Dale City rendezvous, the bus caravan picked up a police escort in Washington and visited the World War II and Korean War memorials. At the World War II memorial, the veterans got to meet fellow World War II vet and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth, also a former U.S. senator. Both are ardent supporters of the World War II memorial and the Honor Flight Network program.

The trip included breakfast at the departure points, box lunches at the World War II memorial, and dinner during a return-trip stop at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. As the veterans moved from their buses into the Marine Corps museum, they were saluted by full-uniform military formations flanking the museum’s entrance, whose numbers included military bands providing stirring, patriotic music.

Following dinner and fellowship at the Marine Corps Museum, the group boarded the buses to head back to Newport News and Mechanicsville.

Wanted: WWII Veterans

Honor Flight trips are free to the veterans, and the people working to make the trips happen are volunteers. The program has no paid staff and is supported through contributions. Each veteran is accompanied by a volunteer guardian, and the guardians must undergo training to make the trip with their vets.

The next Historic Triangle Honor Flight hub excursion is scheduled for April 20.

“We’re recruiting veterans for this trip,” notes Hartman. “Especially World War II veterans. We really want them to have the opportunity to see the memorial, to fellowship with other vets, and to know that we appreciate them and what they’ve done for our country.”

Anyone interested in participating or who knows of someone — a parent, relative or friend — who might be interested in participating, call Honor Flight, Historic Triangle Virginia at 1-800-619-0578. Or you can go online at www.honorflighthtva.org. Applications are available on the website, and anyone wishing to make a contribution to support the Honor Flight program can do so through the website, as well.

Veterans in the central, western and southwestern parts of Virginia may also want to consider an Honor Flight trip with the Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee hub (see box).

“One of the things you’ll hear repeated often by Honor Flight volunteers is that these veterans are a national treasure, and that’s really the basis of all of our efforts,” Hartman says. “We want to do what we can to ensure that these men and women know their service is remembered, and appreciated.”

Northeast Tennessee Hub Accommodates Virginians

Virginia is a big state, and there are many World War II and Korean War veterans spread out across the Old Dominion.

Honor Flight Northeast Tennessee is able to accommodate Virginia veterans for whom a trip to the Richmond or Tidewater areas of the state might prove difficult.

“We welcome Virginia veterans,” says Edie Lowry, program director of the northeast Tennessee hub. “We’ve picked up Virginia veterans at our stop at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford County, en route to Washington, D.C.,” she adds.

Lowry says the northeast Tennessee hub’s planned April trip is already fully booked, but the hub welcomes veterans who would like to register for the trip planned for next October.

“Our trips are three-day trips,” says Lowry. “We leave on Friday, spend most of Saturday touring the memorials in Washington, and return on Sunday.”

Anyone interested in joining the group originating in northeast Tennessee is invited to call Lowry at 1-423-330-6189, or email her at evlowry@aol.com.

 Three Stories 

Jim Lovett – Three-War Veteran

At 88, Jim Lovett is as sharp of mind — and nearly as spry — as a man half his age. The Dale City resident is a member of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative and a three-war veteran.

Drafted into the Army in 1943, Lovett saw action in France from June 1944 until the war ended. “I went over to France a week after D-Day,” he notes. A member of the quartermaster corps, he worked in transportation and supply during the war. “I was at Reims when the unconditional surrender was signed in 1945.” Like most all veterans, Lovett has many interesting — and some very frightening — memories. Once he and a friend were digging a foxhole in the hedgerow country of Normandy, not long after D-Day, and his shovel came inches from tripping a German mine. “It was a very close call,” he says. “Just a little bit closer and we and everyone around us would have been blown up.”

After World War II, Lovett reenlisted and became a career military man. He served in Korea and Vietnam during the wars in those countries, pulling duty in supply and transportation in Korea, and assigned to a field hospital in Vietnam.

“Korea was cold,” he remembers. “That’s what I remember most about Korea.” And in Vietnam, his third war, “The smells of the place — some not so nice — are what really stick out in my mind,” Lovett says with a laugh.

He met his wife, Ilka Ball, in New Rochelle, N.Y., which had become Lovett’s base of operations after he reenlisted. Jim and Ilka married and have had 60 years together, he says with pride. They had four children — a son, James Jr., who passed away two years ago; and three daughters, Pamela, Sonya and Kimberly. The Lovetts also have 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Jim served in the Army for 29 years and nine months, retiring with the rank of sergeant 1st class (E-7), then worked 14 years as a Washington, D.C., government employee.

“The Honor Flight trip was a fantastic experience,” Lovett says. “That type of setting is always a pleasure for military guys. You don’t meet a stranger, because you’ve all been through the same training, the same types of experiences — we all have a lot in common, no matter which generation.

“You can talk about those experiences, too, on a trip like the Honor Flight. They’re experiences that people who haven’t been in the military wouldn’t understand.”

Frank Solari – Quest for Flight Leads to Seahorse Duty

Frank Solari wanted to fly. The Richmond native graduated from Benedictine High School at 16. He couldn’t join the service because of his age, so he attended Belmont Abbey Junior College for three semesters, got an associates degree, then joined the service.

“I went into the Army Air Corps because I wanted to fly,” says Solari, 86. “When I was due to be scheduled for Air Cadet training, the flight schools were full, so they sent me home to wait, for eight months. Every day I’d meet the mail man for word on a flight-school assignment, and one day a big envelope came with discharge papers instructing me to contact my draft board.” Solari went to the Navy recruiters to try and get into Naval flight school and ran into the same problem — there were already more than enough aviation students.

So he joined the Marine Corps in May 1945, still hoping to eventually get into military aviation. That never happened, but he did learn to fly — while waiting in Richmond between the Army and Marine gigs, he’d taken lessons and earned a private pilot’s license at Hermitage Airport near his home.

Solari ended up as a seagoing Marine — a Seahorse — assigned to the USS Chicago, a cruiser stationed in Tokyo Bay during the occupation following Japan’s surrender. His duty included inspection of Japanese vessels entering ports. “They were allowed to have food or personnel aboard,” notes Solari. “The Marines would watch over things while the Navy inspected the vessels.”

He adds that, “For the most part, the Japanese people were very friendly. The emperor had told them to treat us well, which most of them did. But sometimes you’d meet someone who would simply ignore you. I asked one fellow for directions and he never responded — like I wasn’t there.”

Solari also recalls that Japan was a nation totally defeated at war’s end. “The cities had been leveled by the bombing raids. Tokyo, for example, had been fire-bombed and about a third of the city was burned out. The country was devastated.”

Solari left the Marines in August 1946. For several years, he studied to be a monk, but he ended up earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees before a 39-year career in education. Along the way he married and he and his wife Joan had five children — Michelle, Joanie, Chuck, Patricia and Mike — and 11 grandchildren.

“The fact that a group such as Honor Flight would honor veterans means an awful lot,” says Solari of his Honor Flight experience. “I was very impressed by the attention, care and devotion of the volunteers. A lot of these vets are in wheelchairs or on walkers. It was really very moving.”

Willie Smith – Storming the Beach at Normandy

Born in Richmond on Feb. 12, 1921, Willie Smith grew up on the city’s north side and graduated from John Marshall High School before enlisting in the National Guard’s 29th Division in December 1940. Not four years later, he was storming the beach in the second wave to go ashore at Normandy on D-Day.

His memories of those early days in France are vivid. One has a humorous slant. “One night I had gone to the latrine, which was located on the outskirts of the camp. The night sky was light from bombing off in the distance, similar to lightning lighting up the sky. I saw people running between me and my camp. It was frightening. After a few minutes of being petrified, I realized it was a water bag swinging in the wind, not people running by.”

Other recollections are harrowing to this day. “We were walking down a road with hedgerows. All of a sudden a German tank with a small group of infantry was coming down the road. The group of us dove into the roadside ditch. The tank and the men stopped directly above the spot where we were laying. My heart was beating so hard I thought the Germans would hear it, but they left without seeing us. We regrouped and one of our men was missing. We never found out what happened to him.”

Smith was discharged from the Army after the war, in December 1945, as a technical sergeant. He later joined the Virginia Air National Guard and served from 1949 to 1952.

After the war, Smith married a girl he’d grown up with, Virginia Snoddy, and started a business, Smith Signs, a small business that specializes in hand-lettering of trucks. He and Virginia had three children, Wayne, David and Linda. David is director of environmental, health and safety services for Old Dominion Electric Cooperative.

Commenting on the October Honor Flight trip, Smith said, “It was wonderful seeing all the people sending us off to D.C., and the number of volunteers spending their time to help us veterans. It was an honor to participate in such a wonderful event. I would highly recommend all WWII veterans participate.” 

 

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