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Local veteran enjoys honor flight experience

 

Peggy Makey owned a business is Greeley, Colorado, and a customer who had previously met Makey’s father asked if he had been in the war. Makey told the customer what she knew of her father’s time serving during WWII, and the customer mentioned that they should look into the Honor Flight program.

Donald Larson, Makey’s father, had mentioned that he wanted to see the memorial about a year ago. Makey underwent two hip replacements and sold her store, so the plan did not start to take shape until two months ago. Makey asked her father if he wanted to go on the Honor Flight trip, and Larson responded by saying, “Well, I guess.”

Like many veterans, Larson was reluctant to go on the trip at first for fear that bad memories would creep up.

Larson and his two brothers—DeVere and Dwayne—were all drafted on the same day.

“Every time they got us out before a mission or something, they had roll call. So when it’d come, they’d holler, ‘Larson,’ well, we’d all three answer. Then they’d say, ‘D. Larson,’ we’d all three answer again.”

After all the confusion, the three brothers went down different paths. Dwayne went to Texas to work on aircrafts, DeVere was sent to Washington to work with the engineers and Donald was send to the infantry in California.

Larson was a member of the 161st infantry in the Army from 1942-1945. He served nearly four years until being discharged and receiving a purple heart for being injured by shrapnel from an exploding bomb.

Larson was stationed in the South Pacific for his entire tour. In Lausanne, the infantry was training to make a beach hit on Japan. When he came in from training at noon one day, there was a letter on his bunk from DeVere written just two days prior. Larson knew that his brother was on the same island and went to the company commander to get a pass to go look for him. When the commander said no, Larson said, “Well, I’m going anyway. My brother’s on this island and I’m going to go find him.”

Larson got into a jeep with two lieutenants going to Manila, and about 25-30 miles down the road, he saw the engineers sign. The lieutenants let him off and he went inside and saw two large air compressors running. They had 55-gallon gas drums with the tops cut off, full about three-quarters with gas and an air hose stuck inside. The engineers had just received a ration of beer and put it in the drums with the air hose to cool the beer. Larson and his brother had an interesting reunion.

“A lot of veterans got home from the war and had to kick their suitcases under the bed and go back to everyday life without talking about it or getting any kind of recognition,” Makey said.

The Honor Flight trip is a celebration to honor the veterans’ service rather than reliving the past.

The Honor Flight Program began when physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, Earl Morse, wanted to honor the veterans that he had taken care of for 27 years. The World War II memorial was completed in 2004 and began to be a hot topic of conversation among his patients.

Morse’s patients wanted to visit their memorial, but the trip was not financially or physically possible to take on their own. Morse began asking his patients if he could personally fly them to see their memorial for free, and the response was overwhelming—many cried of joy.

Morse asked other pilots to help, but was adamant about two stipulations—that the veterans paid nothing and that the pilots escorted the veterans around Washington D.C. for the whole day. Eleven pilots volunteered, a board was formed and funds were raised. The first Honor Flight made the trip in May 2005 and 12 WWII veterans got the chance to see the memorial dedicated to their service.

By the end of 2012, over 98,500 veterans were flown to Washington D.C.

WWII veterans and veterans with terminal illnesses get first priority to travel to the nation’s capital.

“Our program is just a small token of our appreciation for those that gave so much,” the Honor Flight Network stated.

Larson’s Honor Flight had 120 veterans (40 from WWII), 62 guardians and 16 members of a medical team. Current servicemen carried those in wheelchairs up the stairs onto the plane.

Music from the World War II era played during their travels and the plane was decorated in red, white and blue. At 95, Larson was the oldest veteran on his trip. On the flight to Washington D.C., he was given a badge and the flight attendants turned the trip into a celebration.

“They took a lot of pictures of me and kissed me. I got lipstick all over my face,” Larson said with a smile.

Larson was honored throughout the entire trip. Men from Brazil and Mexico approached him asking for pictures and thanked him for his service because of what WWII did to help their countries.

“It was a job we had to do, and I helped to do it,” Larson said.

The veterans flew out on Sunday morning and returned Monday night. Though it was a quick trip, they got to visit the WWII memorial, the Air Force memorial, the Korean and Vietnam memorials, the Lincoln memorial and the Iwo Jima memorial where all the veterans took a group picture. Unfortunately, Larson and Makey encountered some bad weather on their trip. It was raining the entire time, but the Honor Flight program supplied everyone with umbrellas so that the veterans could still enjoy seeing their memorials for the first time.

“Oh, it was fabulous. It was really unbelievable, you know, how they come up with he ideas and put that together,” Larson said.

“It was almost more emotional for the guardians to see the memorial. A lot of guardians never learned what their relatives went through during the wars,” Makey said.

Some of the guardians were grandchildren with their grandfathers. The trip allowed time for bonding with family members, according to Makey.

On the returning flight, a mail call program had been arranged. During WWII, many soldiers said that receiving letters were highlights of their time in the service. So, the Honor Flight program had elementary school children, as well as family members, write letters to the veterans, thanking them for what they did for the country.

“The people that put these trips together are remarkable,” Loretta Larson said.

Some of the guardians on Larson’s flight had gone on the trip two or three times before. When Makey returned home, she told her husband that she wished she could figure out a way to be a guardian full time to get all the veterans to Washington D.C.

“It was an amazing experience and all veterans should go on the trip,” Makey said.

 

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