On a cold, windy day shortly after 8 a.m., twenty-seven World War II veterans received a spectacular salute as their charter flight took off down the runway at Fort Wayne’s International Airport. Not only did the airport’s fire service perform an impressive water cannon salute for the vets and volunteer helpers on their way to visit the National World War II Memorial, but it also didn’t cost them a penny.
Waynedale, Fort Wayne, South Bend, and other area residents from Northeast Indiana, who had never dreamed of visiting the WWII Memorial, (which was dedicated in 2004, 60 years after the war ended), recently had the opportunity.
Thomas Foltz, Delmar Grotrian and Homer Hoke were on that flight to Washington, D.C. Saturday, October 24.
As he patiently waited to board, Foltz sat proud wearing his bright white cap donning the names of three countries, China, Burma, and India. He reminisced, “Six months after graduating from Elmhurst High School in 1942, I was then 18, maybe 18 and a half, I enlisted in the service. Come March of ‘44, I left the United States to go overseas.”
Delmar Grotrian, 89, told of his service in the U.S. Army as Master Sergeant in the Signal Corp.
Homer Hoke who served in the Army-the 353rd Engineers Corp. said, “…we built the road that carried the men. You see it was 67 years ago this month that my friends and neighbors (the draft board) sent me first to Camp Perry then to Medford, Oregon for basic training…to New Caledonia (New Zealand), Russell Island, Manila, and on.”
These veterans, ages 83 to 93, were saluted once again with the water arch as their plane landed at Dulles Airport.
“There must have been 50 people waving flags and holding signs saying “Thank You!”
“Those people in Washington were overly friendly at the airport and also in the mall of the Memoril. I would like to see it again,” reflected Homer.
A tour bus took the senior heroes into D.C. where they spent a couple of hours at the WWII Memorial. Even though it was raining they were still able to view Iwo Jima Memorial from the bus with a brief visit to the Naval and the Air Force Memorials. Some even walked to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The senior veterans were guests on the saluted Honor Flight-Northeast Indiana, a chapter of a national organization that raises money to cover the expenses of these trips. This Honor Flight network began in 2005 by Earl Morse, a former captain/pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
The goal of the Honor Flight, based in Ohio, is to “ensure that all living World War II veterans, and those veterans from any war that have a terminal illness, get a chance to see the memorial that was erected to honor their service and sacrifice,” said Laura Carrico.
Laura Carrico, a southwest Fort Wayne resident who heads the organization, said, “Additional funds and volunteers are being sought to provide more flights for local veterans to visit D.C. … so, it doesn’t cost them a penny thanks to sponsors like the UAW Local 2209, Zwick & Jahn Funeral Homes, Decatur and DePuy Orthopaedics, Warsaw, plus other organizations that have helped with fundraisers, Monroeville Lions Club Dinner; Peabody Retirement Community Tulip Festival, North Manchester; Shambaugh & Sons Pride Ride, Fort Wayne; the Dennison family of Allen Construction and Engineering Whiffle Ball Tournament, Fort Wayne. It took about 4 months to raise funds for flight #2.”
Currently 200 NE Indiana WWII veterans are on the waiting list for this well-earned trip.
Due to the senior age of our heroes along with the prediction that we are losing 1200 of them daily, Ms. Carrico and the Honor Flight program is committed to do all they can to bring a third saluted dream flight a reality to our area.
Homer, Delmar, Thomas and all veterans have given so much. Thank you, your efforts are not forgotten.
Our heroes had a safe and memorable trip. “It’s an experience that will live with us the rest of our lives.”