To a man who has spent time in locations around the country, and flown and sailed to parts of the world never seen by most, a weekend bus trip to Washington, D.C. could sound all but remarkable.
But for World War II veteran Coral Boatman, the day-long excursion, coming one week before the country celebrates Memorial Day, was an unforgettable memory adding to a lifetime already full of them.
Boatman, 89, joined approximately 20 other veterans of World War II and the Korean War this past weekend on a trip to the nation’s capitol hosted by the non-profit Honor Flight Network (Savannah), which honors America's veterans by giving them an opportunity to celebrate the past, with people who were there.
The retired Air Force-mechanic, who spent time serving America in the South Pacific Theater between 1942 and 1945, says the trip to Washington was an experience like no other.
“The Honor Flight is a wonderful program. It was a tiring trip, but absolutely wonderful,” Boatman said. “I met some of the nicest people you could ever see or hear about. It was well worth it.”
After embarking from Savannah late in the night, the group of heroes spent virtually all of Saturday touring war memorials and historic sites around Washington.
Boatman says the journey provided one highlight after another.
“Before we even arrived in Washington, the bus stopped and we had ‘an old-fashioned mail call,’” Boatman said. “Unbeknownst to me, (program officials) had sent a letter to my wife about getting some people to send mail in. Well, I received the most mail. I got 33 pieces of mail from my family and friends — all congratulating me on the trip and wishing me well.”
And later, after arrival, “we left to visit the WWII memorial. We had a police escort of three motorcycle cops riding in front of us as we went,” he said. “That is where the military brass showed up to meet us. We met a general from the Air Force and a general from the Army — also a fellow from the Marine Corps. It was really nice. And they seemed like they were really glad to see us.”
Boatman, who had visited Washington and viewed nearly all of the memorials several times before the trip, said the day’s greatest moment was one he never could have expected.
“I think what really stood out was at the World War II memorial — where many people were visiting,” he said. “What really impressed me was: a lot of young people and tourists were there, and they came up to us and thanked us for serving.”
“One young woman wanted to have her picture made with me, like I was some kind of celebrity,” he said. “I had never had that happen to me. It was overwhelming.”
Before the day was through, veterans visited the war memorials of each military branch and had an opportunity to see parts of the Arlington National Cemetery.
The group returned home to South Georgia Sunday.
“I really enjoyed it. I really did,” Boatman said. “It is a nice thing (Honor Flight) is doing.”
Boatman, who enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1942, at the age of 19, has served at military bases in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Georgia.
After being sent, through a military program, to Rutgers University to study engineering, he began working on engines and performing maintenance for military vehicles around the world.
Boatman was eventually shipped overseas to serve in the Philippines and Japan until New Year’s Eve 1945, when he was discharged to spend a life in Statesboro with his wife.
Now retired, after working as a mechanic and service manager with a John Deere factory for forty years, Boatman still calls Statesboro home.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.