‘We can’t all be heroes,” humorist Will Rogers once observed. “Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they walk by.”
That’s a sentiment the national Honor Flight Network is founded on: flying veterans to Washington, D.C., so they can visit the memorials honoring their service to the nation and be applauded, lauded and honored. There’s an urgency to its mission: every day, fewer and fewer heroes from World War II are left for us to clap for.
On May 20, Honor Flight Northeast Indiana, one of the four Honor Flight hubs in Indiana, flew its 16th mission from Fort Wayne to Washington and back. Aboard the US Airways charter were 70 World War II and Korean War veterans; their 70 guardians, who are family, friends or caregivers; 12 volunteer staff members from HFNEI and one photographer.
Polly Lipscomb was one of the veterans on that flight. The former first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps still found new experiences. Though she served in England during the war, this was her first airline flight. Honor Flight was made for veterans like her.
Less than two weeks after the trip, Polly went to bed June 3, and never woke up. She was just 10 days shy of her 102nd birthday on June 14, Flag Day. Her son, Sam Lipscomb, a Vietnam veteran who served as her guardian on the flight, said she loved the trip, and it meant a lot to her and her family. “What a wonderful tribute,” Sam told a Fort Wayne reporter of the experience. He estimated hundreds of people, including children, adults and military officers, paid homage.
School children gave the veterans ribbons, leis of paper hearts and flowers, and flags before the flight left Fort Wayne, upon its arrival at Reagan National Airport and when it returned home again to Fort Wayne. And everywhere the veterans went, young and old alike applauded them, paused to chat, had pictures taken with them, shook their hands or simply said, “Thank you for your service.”
Here’s a sampling in photographs of what that monumental day was like for the 68 men and two ladies on that most memorable flight.
Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Electric Consumer. Eight electric cooperatives serving northeast Indiana — Heartland REMC, Kosciusko REMC, LaGrange County REMC, Marshall County REMC, Noble REMC, Northeastern REMC, Paulding Putnam EC and Steuben County REMC — help sponsor Honor Flight Northeast Indiana and provide a photo memory book to each veteran and guardian.
For a sidebar noting the four Honor Flight hubs based in Indiana and two others serving Hoosier, click here.
5:55 am: Honor Flight participants arrive at the 122nd Fighter Wing Air National Guard Base in Fort Wayne May 20 to begin their day, passing under a large flag hoisted by the Southwest Allen County Fire District.
7:31 am: Veteran Al Sherer, of Angola, and his guardian, daughter Tammy Sherer, are all smiles as they wait in line to board the plane to Washington.
7:36 am: American flags are everywhere as veterans who are able to climb stairs enter the charter US Airways flight from the rear of the plane, passing through a gauntlet of flags and salutes.
The May 20 Northeast Indiana flight was the 400th Honor Flight nationwide flown by US Airways. The inside of the plane was decked out in red, white and blue, too.
9:54 am: Upon arrival at Reagan National Airport in Washington, Bob Liehr receives a lei from Eva Peres da Camara, a kindergartner at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in D.C., as his guardian, grandson Alex Kellogg, looks on. The veterans were greeted by hundreds of military personnel, airline employees, schoolchildren and travelers with clapping, flag waving, pats on the back, hugs, handshakes and singing — in addition to an Honor Guard and a military choir.
11:12 am: As Honor Flight Northeast Indiana veterans and guardians arrive at the Pacific entrance of the World War II Memorial, they are welcomed one-by-one by a National Park Service volunteer (in the yellow hat and shirt) and scores of bystanders who lined up and applauded their entrance.
11:44 am: Passing the “Freedom Wall” at the WWII memorial is veteran Wayne Lambert and guardian, daughter Jan Pyle. As the inscription reads, the stars “mark the price of freedom.” Over 4,000 gold stars, each representing 100 U.S. military deaths in the war, make up the wall. A tour guide noted to the group that if the World War II Memorial had been designed like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a wall with the name of each casualty inscribed, the WWII wall would have to have been nine times larger than the Vietnam memorial.
11:58 am: Johnny Smiley, center, talks about his experiences during World War II with his Honor Flight guardian Mike O’Conner and daughter Carlie O’Conner at the World War II Memorial. Smiley, 91, of Oakford, who wore his uniform throughout the day, was a B-17 bomber pilot during World War II. Carlie met the group at the memorial; the Kokomo native is working on her doctorate in D.C.
12:18 pm: The 70 veterans on Honor Flight Northeast Indiana’s 16th flight May 20 gather for a group photo at the World War II Memorial. The group included two women — Polly Lipscomb, front row left, who was a first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps and Betty “Junebug” Harshman, front row right, who was a seaman, first class, in the Navy WAVES.
12:25 pm: On every flight, the group from Northeast Indiana brings a folded flag in honor and remembrance of the veterans who never made it home from the war or never had a chance to see their memorial.
12:23 pm: Amid the majestic stone and metalwork of the World War II Memorial, Fort Wayne veteran Ivan Detwiler seems most moved by a simple letter handed to him when the flight arrived at Reagan airport. The letter reads: “Dear Veteran, Thank you for your service. Your friend, Tate.” Tate Butler is a kindergartner from Francis Scott Key Elementary in Washington.
12:31 pm: Throughout the day, passersby, young and old, would stop to greet and thank the veterans. Just outside the World War II Memorial, a student visiting the memorials with her class not only passed by, but took Polly Lipscomb’s hand and visited with the 101-year-old former Army nurse for a minute or so before rejoining her class. Sadly, Lipscomb died eight days after the day trip.
1:19 pm: Raymond Turpen, one of the two Korean War veterans on the Honor Flight, and his guardian,
Sue Gipson, pause before the Pool of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. At their feet, the memorial notes the numbered captured, “U.S.A. 7,140.” Turpen was visibly touched; he was one of those 7,140 during the war that was waged from June 1950 to July 1953.
1:24 pm: Korean War Veterans Memorial.
3:04 pm: Betty “Junebug” Harshman, 91, receives a special presentation from retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial to recognize her service in the Navy WAVES. A presentation was also made to Polly Lipscomb. The memorial is at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.
3:48 pm: Lined up to observe the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
4:15 pm: Taps sounding to close the wreath laying ceremony.
4:16 pm: Nothing evokes tears like the sound of Taps, especially around war veterans who know all too well what those 24 somber — yet ultimately reassuring — notes usually accompany. Don Bosse wipes a tear after Taps was played at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
6:38 pm: Returning to Reagan National Airport for the flight home, the group is met with more kisses and hugs and entertainers dressed in zoot suits and dresses of the 1940s who danced the jitterbug and more. They rolled with veterans in wheel chairs and danced with others.
6:46 pm: Veteran Dick Martz has his hands full as the dancers move in for smooches which leave red lipstick on his cheeks.
8:33 pm: Homeward bound, Honor Flight volunteers spring one more surprise on the veterans and guardians — mail call! A part of every Honor Flight, bundles of thank you letters and cards — many of which are personalized — are delivered to each veteran. At right, Jade Hill reads one of the cards to her grandfather, Wendell Stapleton.
9:13 pm: Moments after the Honor Flight touches down at Fort Wayne International Airport, John Zwick comes aboard to sound Taps
as the day was almost — but not quite — done. A flight attendant listen with her hand on cheek from the corner.
9:41 pm: Inside the airport terminal, an estimated 2,000 people create a corridor of cheering, flag waving, applauding and handshaking supporters stretching from the arrival gate to the exit doors. A group of family and friends wait for Honor Flight participant Raymond Turpen to make his way through the well wishers.
10:09 pm: In a scene repeated from the day’s beginning, veteran Charles Krause is handed a red, white and blue heart from one of many children greeting the returning flight. His guardian, grandson Marty Krause Jr., looks on.
10:19 pm: On what became a cool rainy night, members of the New Haven High School band cap off the long day with patriotic songs to bid the veterans farewell as Honor Flight participants and their families head home from the Fort Wayne airport.