It was a trip to remember. A dozen World War II veterans from south Georgia enjoyed fellowship with other veterans and made lots of memories after Honor Flight Savannah treated them to an all-expenses paid daytrip to Washington, D.C., recently.
Honor Flight Savannah serves coastal Georgia and South Carolina and is a nonprofit organization that flies veterans to Washington to visit memorials. The endeavor is funded by private and corporate donations and provides a deluxe bus tour, meals, snacks, tee shirts and other amenities.
The organization also provides trained volunteer guardians for each veteran, and enables them to socialize with other veterans and make new friends. This program is geared towards giving priority to World War II veterans and terminally ill veterans from other wars. Trips are approved on a first-come, first-served basis based on the day the application is received.
It took a little while for Burton “Hawkeye” Higgins to be approved for the trip. “I signed up two years ago,” he said. But the trip was well worth the wait, and although it took all day long, the feisty 91-year-old said he was wired, not tired, upon his late-night return to Georgia.
They began their day at 2:30 a.m., when volunteers picked them all up and drove them to the Savannah airport, he said. Even at that hour, “there was a band and 200 people there to send us off,” he said, voice choking with emotion.
To many veterans, especially World War II vets, recognition for their service means a great deal. To have such an effort honoring them today, 65 years after the war ended, is a very emotional experience, he said.
When the men switched planes at Charlotte, N.C., and later arrived at Baltimore, Md., there were more bands and people greeting them, Higgins said.
The day’s events were tightly scheduled, and veterans who used canes were transported in wheelchairs for their safety. Higgins was one of those, and said the “guardian” was extremely attentive. A nurse from Savannah, Maureen Thompson, “was super,” he said.
The guardians pay their own way for the honor to escort the veterans, said Donald Bullard, another Statesboro veteran who enjoyed the trip. But, “We GIs didn’t have to pay.”
Bullard said the trip was quite an honor.
I’ve never been on a trip that was planned so well,” he said. “I never saw so many people who respected us – I didn’t know it meant that much to them.”
Judge Joe Neville was also a guest on the recent trip to Washington, and waxed eloquent about the experience.
“It isn’t enough for me to say a good time was had by all,” he said. “Seeing Arlington (cemetery) was the most moving part. It’s always tough for me to see Arlington, the white markers in rows rolling over the hill.”
Neville said he found the name of a man on the Vietnam Memorial Wall that is grandfather to a man who married his granddaughter. He also saw Audie Murphy’s grave.
Higgins said the trip was phenomenal. “It meant so much, I am so glad this happened to me in my life,” he said. “I bet I shook 700 hands.” He was especially touched when a three-star general stopped to talk to him, and thanked him for his service.
Neville was equally honored by the attention and recognition the veterans received.
“It meant a great deal to me” and was moving to see how everyone showed appreciation for the veterans. It was also touching to see “ comrades … men in wheelchairs, on crutches, with canes, who all expressed appreciation for the recognition,:” he said. “To see so many of these people this late in life recognized – some belatedly – and so many having scars and impairments from military service” was an emotional experience.
“I never saw so many people at one time who respected us,” Bullard said. “We appreciate what ( Honor Flight) did for us.”
Higgins teared up as he recalled the trip and it’s importance o him and other veterans.
“It was the most touching thing that happened in my life,” he said. “For so long, World War II veterans weren’t recognized. We didn’t ask for it, but this was super. I was happy to see others get recognized. And (Congressman) John Barrow, with 100 people, and a band, were there (in Savannah at 1 a.m.) to welcome us when we came back.”
Other veterans from the area who attended the trip are: Kenneth T. White, U.S. Navy, Dublin; Hubert Clyde Miles U.S. Navy, Pulaski; , Andrew Lane Miles, U.S. Navy, Lyons; George E. Parker, U.S. Air Force Air Armament Center, Statesboro; Mooney “Jake” Prosser, U.S. Marine Corp, Statesboro; L. M. Williams, U.S. Army, Statesboro; Leland Riggs, U.S. Army, Statesboro; William “Bill” Lee, U.S. Navy, Statesboro; and Buford F. White, U.S. Army, Statesboro.
Delete - Merge UpFor an application to make a similar trip, veterans can access Internet website www.honorflight.org. , and for more information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization also has a Facebook page.
Mail may also be sent to Honor Flight-Savannah, Inc., P.O. Box 60176, Savannah, GA 31420.