Tears of Loss and Thanks Follow Vets on Honor Flight
May 7, 2009
- It was nice to finally recognize the veterans who sacrificed so much to preserve our freedom and the freedom of others around the world.
- At the Marine memorial, I was asked to render the prayer. That was an honor that you don't ever forget.
The tears still flow easily when Judy Loncaric talks about her parents and their symbolic trip with the Honor Flight program on April 25.
The trip was symbolic because both of Loncaric's parents have died, her father in 1984 and her mother this past August in St. Louis. They were represented on the trip to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., by their burial flags. Their flags were among 18 that were flown to the nation's capitol on F-16s and then presented during an Honor Flight ceremony at the memorial.
The tears Loncaric sheds are both in sorrow and gratitude. She mourns the loss of her parents while, at the same time, she is thankful for the World War II veterans who still proudly stand firm for their country and for the many volunteers from north Alabama and the D.C. area who make the Honor Flight trips possible.
"It was nice to finally recognize the veterans who sacrificed so much to preserve our freedom and the freedom of others around the world," said Loncaric, who participated in a ceremony April 24 in which the burial flags were presented to the F-16 fighter pilots and then again in an April 26 ceremony when the flags were returned to her.
"We saw a few of the World War II veterans at the Friday ceremony. They stood so proud."
Loncaric, who works for Lead AMC Integration Support Center, first learned about Honor Flight through a Redstone Rocket article. She later learned about the burial flag program at a Huntsville Symphony Orchestra fund-raiser for Honor Flight.
"It was a privilege to participate in the honor flag ceremony on behalf of my parents who served our country," she said. "There was great pride and satisfaction Friday night and Sunday morning for all those who attended as we recognized the accomplishments of many World War II veterans."
Loncaric's father, Robert O'Neill Lowery, was a Tech 5 in the Army, serving in both the European and North African theaters from 1941-45. Her mother, Air Force Cpl. Agnes Marie Lowery, served in the American theater from 1943-45.
"They met during the war. They got married in the service," Loncaric said. "But they never really talked about the war. When you start reading about the battles and what they went through you truly understand why they didn't want to go back to those memories. When they came back from war, they had to look forward to a better life."
The 18 burial flags were honored in a ceremony at the WW II memorial by the 125 veterans and the guardians and other volunteers who made the April 25 Honor Flight.
"It was a wonderful day. We did, though, have to deal with unseasonably warm weather," Honor Flight organizer Joe Fitzgerald said. "The veterans all had a great time. It was the time of their lives. We had a lot of older veterans on this flight, including the oldest at 94. We also had several in bad health. Two were terminally ill with one only having two weeks to live and the other only six weeks to live."
The old age and frailty of WW II veterans is the reason why Honor Flight organizers are anxious to get them on an Honor Flight to see their memorial, which was opened to the public 60 years after WW II. The April 25 flight was the seventh Honor Flight since the program started in 2007. So far, 754 veterans have participated in the program.
Two more Honor Flights are planned for the fall. The September flight is nearly paid for, but, at a cost of $100,000 per flight, organizers are still trying to raise funds for the October flight.
Considering the health conditions of most WW II veterans, 80-year-old Bruce Wilson of Sheffield was in pretty good shape for Honor Flight.
"I was the baby of the trip," he joked. "But I was in good company because we had the oldest on the flight."
Wilson volunteered to serve when he was 16. He served with the Army during the occupation of Japan from 1945-48.
Wilson attended the burial flag ceremonies before and after the Honor Flight trip, and participated in the flag ceremony at the memorial. His wife, Joann, and her son were also there for the Huntsville flag ceremonies. All three honored Joann Wilson's first husband - WW II veteran Marine Cpl. Charles Fraser who died in 2007 - whose burial flag was part of the ceremonies.
"That was the greatest honor for me as far as I'm concerned. My wife asked me to participate in the programs," Wilson said. "At the Marine memorial, I was asked to render the prayer. That was an honor that you don't ever forget."
While Wilson was the youngest on the flight, John "Red" Hall of Murfreesboro, Tenn., was the oldest at 94.
"I couldn't tell a bit of difference between my age and the age of the other veterans," Hall said. "There was some up in their 80s."
Hall was drafted in the Army and served in Burma, China and India.
"I was proud to be where I could serve," he said. "We was mostly in danger all the time. We didn't know what was ahead of us."
Both Wilson and Hall complimented the Honor Flight volunteers for a "wonderful" and "fantastic" trip. Their appreciation was also felt by their families and caretakers.
"He was excited and tired when he came back. All of them were," said Rachel Adcock, who is Hall's caretaker. "The whole idea of Honor Flight is unbelievable. It's unreal that people have volunteered and taken on this responsibility. It was planned from top to bottom and all the veterans were well taken care of. I knew he'd be safe, that he'd be well taken care of. All he's talked about since he's been back is the WW II memorial and the other memorials he saw."
To donate to Honor Flight or to volunteer, visit its website at www.honorflight.net.