For these SLO County World War II vets, a special trip to honor them

Local organizers want to take group to see World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

bmorem@thetribunenews.comMarch 27, 2013 

For many, World War II is thought of as “the last just war,” and perhaps it was in light of the fact that it was the last war to be “declared” by Congress after America was attacked on its territorial soil by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941 and Germany declared war on the U.S. on Dec. 11.

It may have also been “just” in its all-encompassing sacrifices of women going to work as their husbands went off to war; children launching neighborhood drives to collect rubber and scrap metal; the country collectively pulling together through the rigors of rationing.

Whether it was a “just” war, “unjust war” or variations thereof are better left to the hawks and doves with greater understanding than I. But here is what I do understand: Of the 16 million people who served in WWII, 400,000 died while in uniform and another 670,000 were wounded in the fight against fascism.

What I do know is that there’s a 172-acre cemetery on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach in France that is virtually American soil, bought by the lives marked by 9,387 crosses that stand sentinel in manicured rows, honoring those who died on D-Day and in ensuing action.

As Adm. Chester Nimitz said of those who sacrificed lives and limbs for liberty in WWII: “They fought together as brothers-in-arms. They died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation.”

A measure of that obligation is being fulfilled by an organization called Honor Flight, which flies WWII veterans to Washington D.C. where they spend time at that war’s memorial, reuniting, honoring and remembering the courage of those with whom they served.

According to Templeton resident John Lewis, who, along with Greg McGill have formed the county chapter of Honor Flight, the organization will be flying 13 World War II vets to Washington in April. The venture (costs of which Honor Flight covers at $1,500 per veteran) entails free airfare, hotel and meal accommodations and individual “guardians who will personally assist their veteran with carrying luggage, taking pictures, and pushing them “if in a wheelchair,” says Lewis.

All of the guardians undergo training sessions to be able to take care of any special needs of their charges while in Washington; they’re self-funded.

Since its founding a year after the WWII memorial was completed in 2004 (59 years after the end of the war!), Honor Flight has flown 90,000 veterans to view their memorial. The following county residents will be our first representatives through Honor Flight:

• Gordon Bastien, 87, Navy, Pacific Theater

• John Burke, 88, Army, Atlantic Theater

• Leo Dumouchelle, 90, Army, Atlantic Theater

• Raymond Easton, 89, Army, Pacific Theater.

• Charles Harber, 92, Army Air Corp, Pacific Theater

• Arthur Hypio, 87, Navy/Air Force, Atlantic Theater

• Bob Mellema, 86, Army Air Corp/Air Force, home front

• Harry Moyer, 92, Army Air Corps, China-Burma-India

• Joe Phillips, 86, Navy, Pacific Theater

• George Rankin, 87, Navy, Pacific Theater

• George Reichert, 95, Army/Army Air Corps, Pacific Theater

• Jack Spaulding, 90, Army Air Corps, home front

• Dale Zeulner, 88, Navy, Pacific Theater

As you can see, this may very well be the last hurrah in these men’s lives, one that will be indelibly held dear in their hearts. The memorial is located between the Washington Monument to the east and Lincoln Memorial to the west on the Washington Mall, and is designed in such a manner that each surviving WWII vet can find his theater of engagement and a field of stars representing the fallen. The experience can be as heartening heartrending, as Tribune Managing Editor Tad Weber can attest.

Weber was working in the McClatchy Washington Bureau in fall of 2004 when he took in the monument. Noticing an older gentleman standing nearby, staring at one of the theaters of operation, Weber asked the gentleman if he’d served; he nodded. Weber asked where; the man pointed to the theater of action and specific battle. The veteran never said a word, tears welling in his eyes at the reconnection and recollections.

Here’s the last stat I’ll leave with you: As of last year, the WWII generation’s average age was 92. Of the 16,112, 566 individuals who served in the armed forces, just over a million are still living, with about 1,000 vets dying daily. We owe these vets who are memorialized — and all who are risking or have risked their lives for us — our undying gratitude.

You can help:

Honor Flight is a federal nonprofit 501c3 organization. All donations are tax deductible. Donations of any amount are welcome and checks should be made Honor Flight and sent to:

John Lewis

1469 Brambles Court

Templeton, CA 93465

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