WWII veteran takes trip of a lifetime

Wanda English Burnett

World War II veterans from the Tri State area were treated like royalty on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. and Ripley County resident, Clarence English, was among them.

Honor Flight Tri-State, headquartered in Cincinnati, has one goal - that is to honor veterans who have made so many sacrifices by taking them on the trip of a lifetime to see their memorial.

English told The Versailles Republican it truly was a memorable day, one he will treasure always.

The day began with a light breakfast at the Wingate by Wyndham in Blue Ash, OH. There the WWII veterans heard from the mayor of Blue Ash, Mark Weber, who thanked them for their service.

Thank yous were plentiful as the trip continued. Strangers walked up to the group, shook hands with the veterans and said “thank you for serving.”

The group boarded a VIP Coach and headed for the Columbus, OH, airport. They flew Southwest Airlines to Baltimore, MD.

The 80 veterans who didn’t know each other until last Wednesday, June 23, were quickly chatting away as if they were old friends. No one was a stranger - they all had a common bond, war.

At the Baltimore airport a surprise awaited the entourage. Active duty men and women of various branches of the military (mostly Navy) lined the walls as the veterans parted the crowd with their arrival. It was a parade like none other with people crowding into the area where the veterans descended the plane.

Tears were flowing and smiles were broad as the veterans were thanked over and over for paving the way for the world. “You are our heroes,” one man in Navy whites told a veteran as he clasped his hand.

Signs were waved and people from children to the elderly cheered for the veterans.
After such an honorary welcome, the veterans were quickly whisked through the airport, put on buses and headed for Washington, DC to see their memorial.

Given the title “The Greatest Generation” is something most WWII veterans feel is unnecessary. They are a respectful, unassuming group, who quietly served their country and came home with no expectations.

As they neared the memorial, a quiet reverence came over the crowd. The memorial that was long overdue would mean something different to each veteran.

These veterans fought and won the most devastating war in history. According to British historian John Keegan, “It (WWII) killed 50 million human beings, left hundreds of millions of others wounded in mind and body and devastated great parts of the world.”

From December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor until August 14, 1945, when Japan surrendered, hundreds of thousands of American lives were lost. Four thousand gold stars adorn the WWII Memorial’s Freedom Wall honoring the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives.

The memorial honors the 16 million across the world who served and the many who supported the war effort on the home front.

The memorial is the center of attention situated between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Twin Atlantic and Pacific pavilions are in place symbolizing the war fought across two oceans. Water is the focal point of the memorial with the gushing fountains reminding those who served of the waters they crossed to get to their destination.

English remembered well the journey he went on 67 years ago. He left Blue Ash, OH, and traveled to Columbus, just as this trip did. However, what would follow could not compare. He trained at Camp Atterbury in Indiana and later on to foreign countries he had never dreamed of going to.

He remembered the sinking feeling he experienced when he realized the ship he was going over the ocean on looked like a sailboat compared to some.

“I wasn’t sure it would make it,” he noted. While he didn’t share a lot of memories from his wartime in Europe, he did say he was proud to serve his country and very glad to see the shores of home upon returning. “You can’t describe the feeling,” he said, as he remembered the ship docking in the New York Harbor.

Higher ups in the military told the soldiers they wouldn’t be able to get off the ship that day when English came home. “They explained that since it was the Fourth of July the people dealing with the paperwork weren’t working and the returning soldiers would have to wait until the next day to disembark,” English told The Versailles Republican.
“My heart sank to my shoe bottoms,” English remembers. He just wanted to go home to see his aging parents. He had a brother, Paul, who received the purple heart medal in World War II, and was anxious to see him and other family members.

“Then we heard the band,” English continued. A parade formed complete with a band and the soldiers were whisked off the ship with a homecoming they never expected. “It was great,” English noted.

Each veteran has his or her own story about coming home. The one common thread is they were home and glad to be here.

The war was over - there had been enough death and destruction - it was time to live.
Honor Flight Tri-State told all the veterans they were loved and appreciated for their unselfish service that freed the world from tyranny.

This group sends an open invitation to any veteran who served before 1950 to go on a trip with them to Washington, DC. There is no charge to the veterans, who are well taken care of on the trip. They are given an all expense paid trip that includes three meals, a T-shirt, souvenir, and enough memories to last a lifetime.

If you know of a WWII veteran who would like to make the trip, you can simply go online to www.honorflighttristate.org and click on application. With statistics showing that WWII veterans are dying at 1200 a day, the group wants
to include all they can yet this year. There are two scheduled flights, one in July and one in September.

English highly recommends the trip and says it was a great experience. “This group (Honor Flight Tri-State) really does a great job,” he concluded.

Pictured above Clarence English of Holton overlooks the WWII Memorial in Washington DC. Pictured at left English met Thomas Luckey from Kentucky who had also served in WWII. Another common bond was Luckey knew people from the Holton area. The two were part of a trip to the WWII Memorial on the Honor Flight Tri-State trip.