Local WWII Vets to take ‘Honor Flight’

Published 5:53 pm Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Three Pike County World War II veterans are scheduled to fly on the Wiregrass Honor Flight to Washington D.C. on Saturday to visit the World War II Memorial.

They are Billy Jackson and Emmett Boutwell from Brundidge and Joe Gilchrist from Troy.

The WWII Memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and honors the 16 million who served in uniform, of whom more than 400,000 gave their lives. It also honors the many millions who supported the war effort on the home front and celebrates the American spirit, national unity and victory.

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Each Honor Flight veteran is required to have a guardian join them on the flight. Jackson’s son, Bill, will accompany him, as will Boutwell’s son, Clark, and Gilchrist’s grandson, Richard.

Jackson has visited the WWII Memorial before, but he said he is looking forward to visiting the memorial with a group of fellow veterans and also sharing the experience with his son.

“We are losing our WWII veterans at a rate of about a thousand a day,” Jackson said. “It will be really nice to be with fellow veterans to view the memorial that was built to honor our generation of those who served.”

Journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term, “The Greatest Generation” to describe the generation who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression and then went on to fight in WWII, as well as those on the war’s home front who made a decisive material contribution to the war effort.

Perhaps, those who served don’t view themselves as members of “The Greatest Generation” but just as those who did what they were asked to do and did so with a deep sense of patriotism and pride.

“We went where we were asked to go and did what we were asked to do,” said Jackson, who served in the Army Air Corps during WWII and also served during the Korean War.

Joe Gilchrist also served in the Army Air Corps. He said sharing the WWII Memorial experience with his grandson will be extremely meaningful.

“In our family we have four generations who served in the military,” he said. “My wife’s dad, our son, Richard, our grandson, Richard Jr. and me. We all served proudly.”

The Honor Flight schedule will be a tight one, leaving Dothan at 7 a.m. Saturday and arrive at the WWII Memorial at noon. A ceremony will be conducted at the Alabama pillar. Sen. Bob Dole and his wife are scheduled to meet with the Wiregrass Honor Flight veterans during their tour of the memorial grounds.

The group is also scheduled to visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the Changing of the Guard. Other sites will be viewed as part of the bus tour.

The Wiregrass Honor Flight Hub has sponsored two flights in addition to Saturday’s flight with the final flight scheduled for April 24.

Bob Bunting, hub director, said the capacity for each Honor Flight is 170 and includes about 90 veterans, their guardians, doctors and nurses and a press representative from the sponsoring cities, Dothan, Ozark, Eufaula and Enterprise.

Bunting estimated the cost of each flight at $70,000. That dollar figure includes the flight, bus transportation, meals and T-shirts and caps for the veterans.

“We have been very fortunate,” Bunting said. “The cities provided the seed money and individuals and businesses have been so supportive. The donations have just come in. It has been a lot of hard work but we have 10 guys on the board who have been willing to do what had to be done.”

Bunting called the Honor Flights the “most worthwhile and heartwarming things I’ve ever been involved in.”

“You’d have to be a part of one of the Honor Flights to understand,” he said.