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Local WWII Veteran Visits Washington & Monument

November 12th, 2012 by

A few years ago my involvement with the Veterans Oral History Project (VOHP) through the Library of Congress led me to interview over 60 WWII veterans from Drew County and gather a whole new set of dear friends – and heroes – while they are still here. I also well remember when AETN took a group of WWII veterans to Washington to see the WWII Memorial after it was completed on the Capitol Mall, including the late former Monticellonian Childs Martin.

Recently I learned of another organization whose major objective is to provide the opportunity for all WWII veterans who are physically able to travel to our Capitol to see the WWII monument.

This organization is named the Honor Flight Network. The Honor Flight Network was conceived in 2004 by Earl Morse, a retired Air Force captain from Ohio, who decided there should be a way to get all able WWII veterans to D.C. to see the memorial created to honor their services to our great nation.

The first honor flight was made in May of 2005 when six small planes transported twelve happy veterans from the Springfield, Ohio, area to the Capitol to see the WWII memorial. (The veterans had to pay nothing; these first plane rentals were paid by the pilots. These same pilots were the veterans’ escorts around D.C. for the day too.)

The Honor Flight Network program has grown from those six small planes from Ohio in 2005 to Honor Flight Network “chapters” in several states. WWII veterans are the main focus now, but Honor Flight Network plans to expand to include veteran of other wars over time. By the end of 2011 the organization had transported more than 81,000 veterans to the Capitol to see the memorials built to honor their sacrifice and suffering to keep us free.

Arkansas is a part of the Honor Flight Network and has had five Honor Flights that have originated from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport since 2009. These flights were sponsored primarily by the Wal-Mart Foundation and Tyson Foods. The flights were free of charge and were made in a single day.

However, this year the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas has united with the aforementioned giants to charter two commercial jets to fly 168 Arkansas veterans, free of charge, from Little Rock to the nation’s capital and back to visit the WWII memorial and others.

A favorite native son and veteran from Drew County, P. Q. Gardner, made this trip in October and this is his story.

Mr. Gardner first learned of the program from his grandson, Chad Gardner, who filled out an application with the Honor Flight Network affiliate in Arkansas so that Mr. Gardner might have the opportunity to make a trip. Chad also agreed to be his “guardian” for the trip. (There was no charge to any of the veterans, but each had to be accompanied by someone to facilitate their trip – a “guardian”.)

Mr. Gardner’s adventure began on Friday afternoon, October 19, when daughter Brenda Lipton drove him to grandson Chad’s home in Benton to spend the night. The two eager travelers awakened at 4 a.m. Saturday morning and left Benton at 5 a.m. to arrive in Little Rock at 6 a.m. and be ready to depart on a 7 a.m. flight.

Large groups of well wishers saw the planes off in Little Rock and greeted them on their arrival at Reagan international Airport at 9 a.m. The planes landed to an overspray from water cannons and again it was very exhilarating, yet humbling, for the veterans to walk through the airport welcomed and cheered by seemingly hundreds of their appreciative countrymen.

The travelers then had “mail call” and each received envelopes of notes from local schoolchildren thanking them for their service to our country. They were also given tote bags filled with several souvenirs of their visit to our nation’s capital.

Senator Bob Dole, whose leadership played a major role in the completion of the WWII memorial, was able to be there for the occasion and Mr. Gardner was honored to get to shake his hand.

Then the veterans piled aboard two large buses for their whirlwind tour of the Capitol Mall. (Incidentally, each bus had a doctor and nurse aboard.) Their first stop was the 2004 WWII Memorial and it nearly took their breaths away. Words cannot do the memorial justice!

The veterans spent some time examining the memorial before they reboarded the bus and drove to visit several of the other military memorials too. On their last look around the area they circled the White House and saw its front and its back.

Mr. Gardner noted there were lots of people out walking in the pleasant weather that day. (It seems reasonable here to point out that during the day the veterans were fed three first class “brown bag” meals that were delicious, ample and approaching gourmet!)

The veterans returned to Reagan International later that afternoon where they boarded their plane around 7 p.m. for their return flight to Little Rock. Again large crowds of well wishers greeted the travelers and welcomed the “old soldiers” home. (The greeters were volunteers from Arkansas’ electric cooperatives.)

Mr. Gardner says he enjoyed every moment of his trip, but was particularly amazed and humbled by the large crowds of appreciative greeters gathered at every stop to welcome and cheer for the veterans.

Mr. Gardner recalls that, once back in Arkansas, he was ready to return home. Grandson Chad drove him back to Monticello that night. It was a whirlwind trip but so enjoyable that he felt no negative effects the next day.

What a worthy endeavor and great way for Arkansas’ industries to “give back” to the veterans of WWII’s greatest generation while they are still among us!

Gardner says other Honor Flights are being planned and encourages other veterans to apply for this great experience. If you are interested, please call 870-723-6449 and I’ll provide more information.

 

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2 Responses to “Local WWII Veteran Visits Washington & Monument”

  1. Jen Gavin says:

    This is awesome!!! Thank you for showing us how a Veteran should be treated and Thank You Mr. PQ for your service!!

  2. Sheila says:

    I am so thankful my son and his grandfather were able to experience this together. What a wealth of memories were made that day.

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