Veterans have their day, thanks to Dole
By Mark Wineka
Here are some additional stories from the recent John Hanford Memorial Honor Flight, which included 105 World War II veterans from Salisbury, Charlotte and the surrounding area.
Former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole of Salisbury made a generous donation to help pay for the flight, honoring her late brother, who also grew up in Salisbury.
Elizabeth Dole was a perfect host.
She chartered a bus for local veterans and accompanied it last Tuesday from Salisbury to Charlotte for the Honor Flight’s departure.
On her early morning arrival at the bus, Dole gave a personal greeting to every passenger, then walked down the aisle serving coffee and doughnuts.
Dole posed for hundreds of pictures during the day, along with Bunny Hanford, John’s widow.
During the return flight from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, Dole personally presented each veteran with a medallion, inscribed with the words “Home of the Free Because of the Brave.”
– – – Joyce Heilig, widow of World War II veteran Theo Heilig and close friend of both Elizabeth Dole and Bunny Hanford, made the trip with son Jim Knight of Raleigh.
Joyce’s first husband died in World War II two weeks before Jim was born. She later married Theo, with whom she had two other children.
Theo Heilig first went to work for the Hanfords’ wholesale flower business in Salisbury as a replacement for Mary Hanford, when she gave birth to Elizabeth Dole.
Heilig stayed on, making a career with the Hanfords and often taking a young Elizabeth on deliveries.
“The welcome, the tour, the work that went into this was unbelievable,” Joyce Heilig said of the Honor Flight.
Knight retired in 2005 after a career in the Army and is now chief financial officer for the N.C. Education Lottery.
– – – Charlie Swink remembers delivering Elizabeth Dole’s first car to the family home in the early 1950s.
It was a blue and white Ford, Swink recalled.
Swink, 91, still sells cars for Cloninger Ford, and he was accompanied on the Honor Flight last Tuesday by Nathan Peele, general manager of the dealership, and 92-year-old Jake Cloninger, the uncle of dealership owner Larry Cloninger.
Swink lost his younger brother Clifton in World War II when the USS Langley aircraft carrier was attacked by Japanese bombers.
Charlie Swink served on submarines during the war. Jake Cloninger, 92, was a diesel machinist who became a painting contractor in civilian life.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Swink said at the World War II Memorial in Washington. “It’s been some kind of reception. Everything has been first-class.”
– – – Some of the veterans caused the alarms to go off as they were passing through the metal detectors at airport security posts.
For some, it was their metal replacement hips that caused all the noise.
For Earle Brown of Salisbury, it was the shrapnel still imbedded in his right arm and some metal in his chest from heart surgery.
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During the war, John Singer of Matthews wanted to enlist so he could participate in the Navy’s V-5 training.
But some bad tonsils prevented him from joining right away, and the program was closed in the meantime.
After the troublesome tonsils were gone, Singer knew he would be drafted, but he still wanted to be part of the Navy, not the Army.
When he couldn’t get into the V-5 program, a district Navy commandant wrote him a recommendation letter directing that he be assigned to the Navy once he was drafted.
When that day came, Singer was being processed with his high school buddy Ray Jones.
Standing in line in front of Singer, Jones had his papers stamped “Navy,” and an officer was poised to stamp “Army” on Singer’s orders when he produced his letter.
The processing officer called Jones back to the table and stamped him instead for the Army, Singer, the Navy.
Singer eventually served on the Navy destroyer Stanton before being assigned to submarine repairs at Pearl Harbor. In civilian life he became a banker, retiring as an executive with First Union.
Jones was killed during the invasion of France.
“I always say Ray took my place,” Singer said at the World War II Memorial.
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With the delight of a school kid, veteran Lee Bradley of Salisbury led several people to an outside wall of the World War II Memorial.
There, etched in the stone, was the phrase “Kilroy Was Here” with a drawing.
There wasn’t a bathroom he entered in his entire naval career during the war, Bradley said, where someone hadn’t scrawled “Kilroy Was Here.”
Hopi Auerbach, a Washington tour guide, said the famous wartime phrase was purposely included on both sides of the shrine. It’s not something today’s youngsters readily understand when she points it out, she acknowledged.
“This is making me feel good because he gets it,” Auerbach said of Bradley’s enthusiasm.
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Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a chairman of the fundraising effort for the World War II Memorial, said only 10 percent of the $175 million project came from federal funds.
“That’s why it looks so good,” he added.
– – – Ginger Smith, retired librarian from Faith Elementary School, was among the USO volunteers who met the Honor Flight participants on their morning departure from the Charlotte terminal.
Because she knew many of the veterans, she decided to return Tuesday night for their return from Washington.
It was her first day working for the USO.
“I have some special feelings for these guys,” Smith says. “You can look in their eyes and see the excitement.”
Smith accompanied her own father, veteran Marcelle Williams, to the World War II Memorial about three years ago. Now her son Ryan is a Marine, home from a recent tour overseas.
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The late John Hanford Jr., whose name was given to last Tuesday’s Honor Flight, was a 1939 graduate of Boyden High.
His classmates included Bill Stanback and Clyde Young, veterans who made the Honor Flight trip. All three men served in the Navy during World War II.
Young, who is known for playing his trumpet at many local events, including American Legion baseball games, said he was actually second-chair trumpet to John Hanford’s first chair in the Boyden High Band.
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A special guest on the Flight of Honor was retired Army Col. John C. Brunton Jr. of Salisbury.
He served three tours in Vietnam during a career that spanned from September 1956 to May 1995. He earned three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.
Brunton said he especially enjoyed the Marines’ silent drill team, which performed near the memorial after lunch, and the group’s later trip to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The World War II veterans sometimes faced incredible obstacles and odds in their fight for freedom and democracy, Brunton said.
“A lot of it was just sheer guts,” he said. “… It’s their day, not mine.”