Claremore Daily Progress

Columnists

June 20, 2011

Reflecting on Honor Flights: Invading the Captial

CLAREMORE — (Writer’s Note:  recently Susan Smith accompanied her father William C. Larkin to Washington, D.C. as part of the Oklahoma Honor Flight for World War II veterans.  This is the second of a three-part series of their trip.)

During the short bus trip to Tulsa International Airport our buses were escorted by two motorcycle Highway Patrolmen, lights flashing the whole time.  Behind us were several members of the Patriot Guard bikers.

On arrival even more members of the guard were present to help with wheelchairs and offer any assistance as needed.  One of them, a Marine himself, said he would be honored if he could push my dad’s chair into the terminal.

Special arrangements had been made to get us through the security checkpoint.  Still this was a “military operation.”  Like all the veterans had experienced during their service time, I’m sure, there was a long line to go through.

Being the first Honor Flight from Tulsa, some delays and miscues were expected. 

While on the bus our boarding passes were given out:  All but mine!

A check with the other two buses failed to produce it.  On Daddy’s advice I checked again with our pass person.  Sure enough, my pass was stuck to the back of another.

By having these passes and an ID card in hand, security was a snap.

The vets in wheelchairs and their guardians were the first to board the plane.  Daddy and I quickly found our seats located near the wings.  We settled in and watched all the others coming on.  Every veteran was displaying a big smile as they entered and found their seats.  It was the same with the guardians and the helpful flight crew.

Among the veterans also from Claremore were Fred Cox and Larry Filkins, both Army.  Serving as their guardian was congressman Marty Quinn.  All three were smiling from ear to ear.

Fanny packs were given to each veteran coming on the plane.  They contained snacks (peanuts, cookies, crackers, etc.) and an OHF wristband and hat pin with the U.S. flag and veteran flag displayed.

As our Miami Air jet started toward the runway shortly after 7:30, the airport fire department gave us a water-spray salute. 

Once in the air we were served a cheese omelet breakfast.  We were told our flight would take two hours, so we had plenty of time to enjoy it.

We landed at the Baltimore-Washington airport and like our sendoff, we were greeted by another water spray.

Before unloading an admiral came aboard to officially welcome us to the Capital.  Once in the terminal we were met by a welcoming line-up of active service sailors who shook each veteran’s hand.

The Red, White, and Blue buses were ready to take us the rest of the way.

D.C. was about a 45-minute trip.  Guess what!  It was time to eat again as box lunches were handed out.  Nobody was going to go hungry on this trip.

Our tour guide was also named Susan and she was an emergency room registered nurse from Ohio.  She said she had been able to guide over 100 Honor Flights, explaining over 40 states now have the program.

The bus driver Mike was a big jolly man who could certainly handle our vehicle through Washington traffic. As operator of the first bus, he was our leader.  (More about him in a moment)

We were told our first stop would be the World War II Memorial.  As we pulled into the parking lot we noticed another Honor Flight bus, this one from Ohio.

As our “wheelchair brigade” led the way, we disembarked.  On our bus alone we had 15 veterans using the chairs.  All were able to walk, but for long distances the chairs were a must.

We were ready to see the main reason why the Honor Flight program was organized. 

For most of us this was our first trip to Washington, D.C.  It was striking, but hot.  Even so the 93-degree temperature was not going to stop these battle-tested vets.

The WWII Memorial was beautiful with a pool and fountains that lay between the Pacific column and the Atlanta column.  On one side stands a wall with 4,000 gold stars displayed.  They represent the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in the war.

Each state is represented with a slab stone with its name inscribed. Of course the Oklahoma slab drew the most attention.

It was here where a stranger also visiting the Memorial walked up to my father.  Having seen the 3rd Division cap, he asked Daddy if he had been on Iwo Jima.  Being told he had, the man added his grandfather had been killed during the fighting there.  Being born years later, he said he had been told countless stories about his Marine grandfather.

Having tears in his eyes, he said he wanted to shake the hand of someone who had also served there.

Several other civilian visitors also took time to shake hands with our veterans and thank them for their service.

Back on the buses we drove past the White House, Ford’s Theater, the Naval and Seabee memorials, the FBI building, the Washington Monument, and several other famous sites.

Our next stop was the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Wall.  From these points our next and final scheduled D.C. destination was Arlington Cemetery.

During the day Daddy and our driver Mike had carried on a conversation.  Although it wasn’t on the agenda, Mike asked Daddy if he wanted to stop at the new Iwo Jima Memorial.

Knowing we were already behind schedule somewhat, he declined the offer. 

So our driver did the next best thing.  He had already proved he knew all the shortcuts and how to stay out of heavy traffic.  After notifying the other two drivers of his intentions, he still gave all of us a close-up look at the giant statue of the Marines putting up the flag.

I know he took the buses up a series of sidewalks without a hitch.  Our path wasn’t wide enough for ordinary vehicles, let alone a bus.  Still he did it.  I wish I could have presented Mike a medal for going beyond the call of duty.

Following the brief detour it was on to Arlington and the “Changing of the Guard.”

(Part III:  Arlington and the trip home)

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