Now it's their turn to go

John Christensen
Veterans taking the next Honor Flight are (from left), front: Dick Eisenhart, Les Farrington, Charlie Robinson, Eileen Ross, and Clarence Parmalee; back: Robbie Robinson, Martha Rouin, John Mattison, Jim Case, John McDowell, and Bill Mair.

Last year, 12 World War II era veterans flew together as part of Honor Flight Rochester’s 32nd mission to “Fly our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect together at their memorials.” Soon labelled “The Dirty Dozen,” they were the single largest group Honor Flight had ever flown. This year, the second largest group is also from the Penn Yan area, so they might be called “The Lucky Eleven.” The group includes two women and one Korean War veteran.

The group will gather at the Penn Yan American Legion at 2 a.m. Oct. 18 to arrive at Rochester airport at 4:30 for their 6 a.m. flight to Baltimore. After touring the monuments and sights of Washington D.C., the veterans and their guardian escorts will enjoy a banquet with other Honor Flight groups at their hotel.

They will leave Baltimore airport at 8 a.m. Oct. 19, arriving in Rochester at 11 a.m. Those wishing to welcome them home should be at the airport by noon, says Norm Koek, one of the organizers. To welcome them home to Penn Yan, be at the American Legion by 3 p.m. Sunday.

The group includes Jim Case (Army), Dick Eisenhart (Army), Les Farrington (Army Air Corps), Bill Mair (Army), John Mattison (Navy), John McDowell (Navy), Clarence Parmalee (Army), Charlie Robinson (Navy), Robbie Robinson (Army), Eileen Ross (Army), and Martha Rouin (Army).

Ross’s trip is being paid for in part with funds raised by the 2014 Penn Yan Mustang softball team. Ross was an Army flight nurse who accompanied patients being transported from the east coast to locations around the country. Penn Yan softball coach Marty Kubli took the Honor Flight trip last year with his own father, Paul, so he knows what a special experience the trip can be. When the team wanted to give back to the Penn Yan community that has supported their program over the years, sponsoring a veteran’s trip seemed like a terrific idea. Once they found a woman veteran, it was even more fitting.

Just as The Dirty Dozen did, The Lucky Eleven will visit the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, The Korea and Vietnam War Memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Navy Plaza, the Iwo Jima Marines Memorial and the Air Force Memorial, followed by thebanquet at their hotel.

The veterans enjoy seeing the monuments of Washington, but the real pleasure most of them take from their trip is the chance to meet with their comrades, says John Burns, of Honor Flight Rochester, whose own father opened up and spoke of the war as he never had in 60 years while on an Honor Flight trip. “These are the guys who really know what they went through because they were there with them,” says Burns. Gleason concurred, adding that a lot of veterans think people don’t remember or simply don’t care. “These trips mean a lot to them, and to the veteran guardians who accompany them,” he said

Some of those guys came back from the war, took off their uniforms and never talked about it again,” says Gleason. “It’s amazing to see and hear them open up for the first time when they get around all the other veterans who know what they went through.”

Koek worked not only to find more WW II veterans for this trip, knowing of at least two other veterans of “The Greatest Generation” living in Yates County who had not come forward; he also worked to raise $3,300 for the guardian escorts to fly. Local people and companies have been generous with funds and services, but more touching are the previous Honor Flight veterans and their families who have donated money so others veterans may also go.

According to VA statistics, the U.S. loses more than more 1,200 World War II veterans across the country every day. Honor Flight is free to all World War II and Korean veterans and to veterans from any era who suffer a terminal illness. The flying season is April to November, and the sooner veterans apply, the sooner they fly. Veterans typically fly in the order their applications are received.

Honor Flight’s first mission flew in 2005 with six small planes flying 12 veterans from Ohio. By 2007, there were official hubs in 32 cities. Now there are over 100.

Honor Flight is funded by donations, accepting no government funds, nor partisan political sponsorships. Their urgent objective is to accommodate local WWII veterans who otherwise would never visit their own memorial. Honor Flight is a way of paying a small tribute to those who gave so much. As one observer put it, “They were all just kids. And all they did was save the world.”

Welcome them home

What: Welcome the Honor Flight group home

When: noon Oct. 19 at Rochester Airport or 3 p.m. at Penn Yan American Legion

Welcome them home