A trip well deserved
A group of 99 World War II veterans from Oklahoma travel to Washington, D.C., to pay respect to the city’s memorials.
World War II veteran Bud Chandler of Tulsa and State Rep. Eric Proctor participated in the inaugural Oklahoma Honor Flight, held last May.
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Former television news anchor and journalist Tom Brokaw called them “members of the Greatest Generation.”
Once 16 million strong, U.S. veterans of World War II are passing at a rate of more than 800 a day and now number well over 2 million, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But for 99 Oklahoma veterans on one bright, sunny day in October, that statistic was forgotten as they basked in a well-earned day in the limelight.
Thanks to Oklahoma Honor Flights, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to transport WWII vets to the nation’s capital for an opportunity to take in the memorials, the veterans saw firsthand the fruits of their efforts — many for the first time.
Not many 90-year-olds are willing to put in a 20-hour day, but this group of Oklahoma veterans did so gladly.
A designated guardian accompanied each veteran to assist him and to help make his visit as comfortable as possible.
I had the honor to serve as guardian to Dewey Smith of Yukon, who spent time in the European Theater, and Arles Cole of Tulsa, a Pearl Harbor survivor and veteran of the Pacific Theater.
The trip was made possible by the Honor Flight program, which was started in Ohio in 2005 and now has hubs across the country. Oklahoma is the 30th state to join the program.
Veterans apply for the trips, which are funded through private donations.
Oklahoma State Rep. Eric Proctor from Tulsa, who coordinates the program for the eastern part of the state, came on this trip and the inaugural trip last May.
He has a special reason for his involvement.
“My Grandfather Proctor was a veteran in World War II stationed in Sicily,” Proctor says. “He passed away in 2004 before the World War II Memorial was completed, so he never had the opportunity to see it.
“Many of these veterans were never properly thanked for all they did for our country. When they returned home, they simply went to work in the factories and on the farms. Our mission is to make sure the veterans recognize that we appreciate all they did. These thank you’s are 65 years in the making.”
He says the Oklahoma program organizers plan to arrange three trips next year — one leaving from Tulsa and two from Oklahoma City.
Despite their diverse backgrounds, these veterans all had one quality in common — they were willing to lay their life on the line so we could indulge in the freedoms we enjoy today.
A trip to Washington, D.C., was the least we could do to pay them back.