By TIM HORAN
After an event-packed trip to Washington D.C., Dr. Jon Thayer, Sr. was hard pressed to single out one memorable moment.
He returned to Abilene last week after taking the Honor Flight to the nation’s capitol.
“Wonderful,” he said best summed up the trip. “There were so many highlights: Lincoln Memorial, changing of the guards, the Vietnam Wall, the World War II Memorial, Korean War Marine Memorial, Iwo Jima and we went through the Pentagon.”
He said there are 25,000 employees in one building at the Pentagon.
“Everything is available there in a shopping mall,” he said. “It was a surprise to me.”
One of the highlights had a down aspect to it: the Holocaust Museum.
“We had welcoming committees at every stop. People were very kind. We had great accommodations and wonderful care.
“It was busy but they gave us time to do things,” Thayer said. “They didn’t hurry anybody. It was very well organized. You don’t travel very far there. You can get to three states in about seven minutes.
He singled out organizer Beverly Mortimer, superintendent/NCK Honor Flight team leader, for her efforts.
Thayer was accompanied by his daughter Jill Watson after his friend William Fenton became ill and couldn’t travel at the last minute.
“After some scrambling and telephone calls, Jill filled in for him,” he said.
The North Central Kansas Honor Flight, based out of Concordia, made a trip to Washington D.C. to escort 28 area veterans to their memorials. Each veteran was escorted by a guardian to assist with needs and help in any way necessary. This is the third year for the North Central Kansas Honor Flight to provide the trip for Veterans from a central Kansas region.
The NCK Honor Flight was escorted out of town at noon on May 28 by the Legion Riders and the Concordia Police Department. Many community and family members as well as past participants helped with a send-off. The group drove to Kansas City, spending the night near the airport. Veterans were each given a decorated snack bag with special snacks and thank you notes, courtesy Concordia four graders. Their Southwest flight departed Kansas City on May 29. Southwest Airlines donated some of the Veteran’s tickets. A special security line is set up to honor and give the heroes extra attention and reduce their wait at the airport.
The group arrived in Baltimore and was first paid tribute from the airport fire department shooting water cannons at the plane as it taxied to the gate. At the Baltimore airport, the group was greeted as they stepped off the plane by a cheering crowd, members of the Navy in white uniforms, and the women’s rowing team from the Navy. Senator Elaine Bowers was also there to meet the group for their first day of travel.
The Honor Flight boarded a charter bus and was saluted by the members of the Navy as they departed the airport for the memorials. The first stop was the WW II Memorial. Members of Jerry Moran’s staff were at the memorial to welcome the group. The WW II Memorial serves as a reminder of the 16 million who served in uniform during the war. Twelve of the men in this touring group were WW II Veterans. One special moment at the WW II Memorial was the large group photo and the attention given by the Veterans from other groups at the site.
After the WW II Memorial, the group made a stop at the Air Force Memorial on the grounds of Ft. Meyer. Three memorial stainless steel spires up to 270 feet high evoke the image of contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they execute a precision “bomb burst” maneuver. Group members had time to reflect on the tragedy at the Pentagon as the plane hit on 9-11. The only evidence of the tragedy remaining now is the various stone shades used to repair the Pentagon and the new memorial site.
The Pentagon was the next stop on the itinerary. Senator Elaine Bowers was able to arrange a tour of the Pentagon, a site so large that 100 White Houses would fit in it and it has six zip codes. The tour included the indoor memorial to those who lost their lives during the attack on the Pentagon. Young military staff members gave excellent information about the Pentagon during the tour.
Next stop on the tour was the Marine Memorial: Iwo Jima. The statue sitting 32 feet high with a 60 foot flagpole and flag was a larg Memorial. The group also took advantage of the view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument from this site. NCK Honor Flight uses high school students for some of the guardian positions. One WW II Veteran sat and talked about the Memorial with two high school students. Veteran Johnnie Mosher said, “It’s bigger than I thought it would be and it’s very nice, but I was just telling the girls what it was like to be there.” He then continued to tell his story of Iwo Jima.
The NCK Honor Flight received special permission to drive the charter bus onto the grounds of Arlington Cemetery, vast acres of more than 300,000 stones representing buried military personnel. The Veterans had a short walk to witness the ceremony of the Changing of the Guards.
The group retired for the day at a Washington, D.C. hotel where they experienced a mail call. Each Veteran received a brown paper wrapped package that contained letters and notes from family, friends and/or school students.
Day two started with a visit to the Vietnam, Lincoln and Korean Memorials. NCK Honor Flight participants were able to walk around the area and visit each of these sites. Some members of the group used the directory to find the names of loved ones on the Vietnam Wall among the 48,000 names inscribed in chronological order of the day of casualty. The Korean Memorial has the photographs of faces etched in the wall and nineteen life-like sculptures of the soldiers. Several of the NCK Honor Flight Veterans served in multiple conflicts. A few served in WW II and the Korean War. Just over half of the NCK Honor Flight Veterans were Korean War Veterans.
Senator Jerry Moran’s office scheduled a tour of the Holocaust Museum. The group had just a short time to walk through the four floors of the Holocaust experience. It contained more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors, and four theaters that included historic film footage and eyewitness testimonies. This exhibition is divided into three parts: Nazi Assault, Final Solution, and Last Chapter.
The final stop on the tour was at the Navy Memorial. Four NCK Honor Flight members served in the Navy. The Navy Memorial honors those who have served or are currently serving in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine. Pools of salt water from the Seven Seas and the Great Lakes are also part of this memorial.
The bus driver gave a driving tour around the Capitol and several other famous or historic sites before heading back to the Baltimore airport. Southwest Airlines had a film crew at the boarding gate to record the Veterans walking onto the plane to use in one of their promotional videos. During the flight, the Southwest flight attendants led the passengers in the singing of the fight songs of each branch of the service and “Home on the Range.”
The group arrived back in Kansas City on May 30. They were welcomed by family members and a Patriot Honor Guard which stood at attention beside the bus until it was ready to leave.
A quote from student guardian Jordan Pounds summed up the experience: “These Veterans changed my life. Their stories are breathtaking and will make you cry. You have to listen to them! They tell you everything and why they love Honor Flight
The NCK Honor Flight is a non-profit organization with affiliation to the National Honor Flight. NCK Honor Flight is also hosted by USD 333 Concordia as an activity group. Honor flight groups raise funds to cover the expenses for Veterans to be able take the trip at no cost. Many area residents, organizations and communities assist with activities and events to help sponsor the honor flight trips. They are accepting donations or items for the next benefit auction. Because they also take at least 15 wheelchairs on each trip, they would graciously accept donations of wheelchairs. Applications for the next trip are being accepted which will be in May 2014. Priority goes to WW II Veterans and they have included Veterans with health concerns. Spouses are not allowed to travel as guardians but the group tries to work with families to allow a son or daughter or other family member to travel with their Veteran. Contact Bev Mortimer at 785-243-3518 or email email@example.com for more information. There are several other official hubs for the Honor Flight in Kansas so Veterans can be connected with the hub nearest their hometown.
The North Central Kansas Honor Flight contributed to the writing of this article.
Participants in the 2013 NCK Honor Flight:
Jim Huff, Concordia Jayme Peterson (USD 333 Nurse)
Johnnie Mosher, Concordia Kaylee Mosher (CHS Student)
Lee Campbell, Concordia Denise Stover (CHS Instructor)
Gene Johnson, Concordia Kevin Johnson (CHS Instructor)
Bill Forshee, Concordia Jim Elyea
Bob Peterson, Concordia Jordan Pounds (CHS Student)
Mark Morgan, Concordia Christian Wetter (CHS Student)
Bud Hefner, Concordia Clay Boley (CHS Student)
Keith Buss, Concordia Jon Buss
Clarence Kelley, Belleville Greg Kelley
Jon Thayer, Abilene Jill Watson
Mel Percival, Salina Josh Meyer
Joe Losey, Salina Cyndi Atwell (CHS Counselor)
Duane Slingsby, Clay Center Bonnie Slingsby
Dee Panter, Elkhart Mary Brummer
Alvin Friesen, Hesston Marc Firesen
Kenneth Schwarz, Marysville KC Schwarz
Joe Lambert, Smith Center Judy Burgess
Leo Emmot, Beloit Janelle Pacey
Victor Brummer , Tipton Kelli Hake
Bob Ellenz, Tipton Tim Ellenz (from California to surprise his Dad)
Edgar Hake, Tipton Lonnie Brummer
Cliff Campbell, Beloit Terry Campbell
Marvin Kugler, Smith Center David Mortimer, EMT
El Dean Holthus, Smith Center Ryan Mortimer (CJH Instructor)
Lovelle Kirchhoff, Smith Center Ashely Carlgren (CHS Instructor)
Roger Lahodney, Belleville Caleb Strait (CHS Student)
Don Slagle, Belleville Jim Slagle (from Wyoming to travel with his Dad)