Honor Flights are conducted by nonprofit organizations dedicated to transporting as many United States military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war(s) they fought in, in Washington, D.C., at no cost to the veterans.
Thank you for your recent column and especially the information about Vern DePew that I was not aware of. In a previous letter I said that when I got to Washington, D.C., I would look up the names of three Forks young men killed in Vietnam. I had forgotten the name of Don Kraft and I apologize to anyone offended by that omission.
So the little town of Forks lost four of its finest to the cauldron that was Vietnam. What an enormous sacrifice and waste of talent and promising futures.
My son Alan and I departed from SeaTac on May 7 with a rousing sendoff by Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard Grornlich and a number of his men (and one woman), who stood at attention.
Within a few hours we were ensconced in a Baltimore hotel and preparing for the next two days of feverish activity.
Our first stop was at the World War II memorial, the most elaborate of all those we visited. At the enclosed side of the memorial is the Freedom Wall, which holds over 4,000 gold stars, each representing the deaths of 100 service men and women.
Our next stop was the Lincoln Memorial. I had been there when I was stationed in D.C. at the end of World War II. I had an interesting experience when I greeted a Japanese family with a few Japanese phrases I recalled from the war. They were astonished and pleased and insisted on taking photos with me. The Korean memorial was nearby. Friends had told me it was one of the most memorable of all the memorials in the area.
At the Vietnam Memorial we were easily able to find the names of Doug Foster, Norm Lodholm and Vern DePew. I’m sure we could have located Don Kraft’s name as well. I was especially concerned with finding Vern’s name because of my long friendship with Wes, his older brother. Wes is well known in Forks as a former businessman and mayor. He lives in Port Townsend and has a large number of relatives in Forks. By the way, Vern was a 1963 FHS graduate, and, as you so aptly put it, he and the other young men might today be grandfathers and living the lives their contemporaries are living today. The day ended with visits to the FDR memorial, a series of walls containing some of the more famous quotations attributed to him, and the Navy memorial.
On Monday we boarded one of the 60-passenger buses for the trip back to the other Washington, our first goal being Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As we meandered through the acres of graveyard markers, it became perhaps the most poignant experience of the trip as one realizes how many hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in our nation’s wars, most of which were no doubt avoidable.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier an eerie silence prevailed, not even broken by a child’s cry. A crowd of two or three hundred watched the guard walk his assigned path, perform the shoulder of arms maneuver, turn sharply and return down the same path. When we arrived later at the Marine memorial, our bus driver suggested that we watch the flagpole carefully. Sure enough, as we rounded the curve the pole did seem to be rising.
Our last stop of the day was the Air Force memorial with its three tall, steel arcs reaching into the firmament. It was early afternoon when our tour ended and we were on our way to the Baltimore-Washington airport and we were on our way home. About midway back the lights on the plane dimmed and the words “mail call” rang out. Each veterans was provided with a large envelope containing notes and letters from school children all over western
Washington thanking us for our service. Tissues also were handed out and proved useful.
An unforgettable welcome awaited us at the SeaTac terminal. As each veteran arrived, he or she was met by a member of his branch of the service and escorted through the terminal until we reached the ceremony that ended the flight. On the way through the terminal we were cheered and thanked by hundreds of people. Many of our members were in wheelchairs and that probably contributed to the emotion involved in the reception. A women’s group gave each veteran a beautiful blanket before the affair came to an end.
I cannot end this without referring to an additional honor bestowed on a group of us veterans. On Memorial Day the P.S. Honor Flight group and the Seattle Mariners teamed up to invite us to the game with San Diego. Thirty of us veterans lined up on the first and third base lines and our photos and World War II ranks were displayed on the large screen in center field. Then Mariners rushed from their dugout and shook hands with us. When we had left the field, one of our members, a 92-year-old sailor, threw out the first pitch and that was picked up by social media. I believe the whole ceremony was shown on Root Sports.
One additional comment: I wore my “I Love Forks” button on the entire trip and met quite a few “Twilight” fans, but no one who had ever visited Forks. None of the honors accorded me in the above activities exceeded the honor of being named “Hometown Hero” and participating in last year’s Fourth of July parade. Thanks again, Forks.