Vets enjoy memorable trip to D.C.
By Shavonne Potts
Eight men from Rowan County took the trip of a lifetime. These were no ordinary men, and this was no ordinary trip.
The men, all World War II veterans, recently flew to Washington, D.C., to see the WWII Memorial. The trip was made possible through Flight of Honor.
The veterans also visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
Flight of Honor is a service project of Rotary District 7680, which honors veterans of WWII who live in midwestern North Carolina.
Rotary District 7680 represents 14 counties. Transportation, including air fare and meals, is provided for the veterans.
The trip is for one day for veterans only. However, family and spouses are encouraged to arrange their own way to meet the veterans at the memorials.
It is a continuation of North Carolina resident Jeff Miller’s Honor Air, which was open to Henderson County veterans.
Veterans must complete an application that includes any medical conditions or special needs. Wheelchairs are provided for those who need them.
Veterans are accompanied by a guardian who looks after them and makes certain they are comfortable.
It costs $500 to send a veteran and $200 to send a guardian.
Ray Simpson went in April with friend Lee Bryant, who died in July.
Wesley Barnes, Jay Buxton, J.C. Medlin, Ralph Seamon, Frank Skiles and George Summers all boarded an airplane Sept. 19.
The men are Trinity Oaks Retirement Community residents.
Simpson learned of the trip from Bryant, who was going and asked Simpson to join him. Simpson jumped at the chance to go, obtained an application and was put on a list. Ten days later, he was accepted.
There were 120 veterans who went on that trip. A van took the men to Charlotte, where they received a hero’s welcome.
“Most of us didn’t get a parade. We got one 64 years later. It was great,” Seamon said.
An hour later they landed in Washington to more thunderous applause, a band, handshakes and many more thank yous.
“What impressed me most was the reception. They made you feel welcome,” Summers said.
Two fire engines flanking each side of the plane also made a water arch squirting water into the air as a sign of honor.
“The air controllers gave us priority air. We went from runway to runway,” Barnes said.
He was also appreciative it wasn’t just military personnel who greeted them but moms, children and strangers as well.
“It’s not something you realize that goes on,” Barnes said.
The strangers saluted the men and shook their hands.
The men also received a police motorcade escort to the memorial from the airport.
“It was quite an experience. I had been there before. It means more to me than any other thing,” said Seamon.
“The crowd was emotional. You could tell they were exhausted, but emotional,” Skiles said.
Buxton said every memorial they went to was different.
“Every memorial has it’s distinction and beauty. The Lincoln Memorial is a tremendous monument. It does something to you,” Buxton said.
Simpson was most impressed by the WWII Memorial, where there was one gold star on a wall for every 100 men and women who were killed.
He also was struck by the life-like appearance of the Korean War Memorial.
The statues were very real looking, he said.
At the Korean War Veterans Memorial there are 7- foot-tall stainless steel figures “on patrol” in full combat gear. Each of the 19 figures represents each branch ó Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.
When the figures are reflected in the nearby wall, it appears the 19 soldiers have turned into 38, which represents the 38th parallel.
The 38th parallel eventually became the political border between North and South Korea. It also became the focal point for negotiations of a cease fire.
Summers was happy for the good weather in Washington since they’d left behind rain in Salisbury.
“We had a picnic on the lawn,” he said.
The men said every time they turned around someone was giving them food. The guardians had sandwiches and other snacks for the veterans.
The men ate plenty, they all agreed, laughing.
Skiles said he hopes that people would learn from the experiences of veterans like he and the other men.
On the trip back, Summers said they were in Concord with a flat tire. Luckily, it had just stopped raining, he said.
“I can’t thank the Rotary enough,” Barnes said.
Trinity Oaks Executive Director Mike Walsh said it was an honor for the Trinity Oaks residents to go on this trip.
“You can sense the joy and they were looking forward to this day,” he said.
The entire Trinity Oaks family were very supportive, Walsh said.
“The way they were taken care of, it put a wonderful touch on a very special program,” he said.
Frank Skiles, 84, started out in the Navy as a controlman and later an officer. Controlmen operate weapon systems.
Jay Buxton, 90, was in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a tailgunner on a V-17 bomber. He retired as a sergeant.
Wesley Barnes, 83, was also in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a cryptographer, deciphering codes.
Ray Simpson, 82, was in the Army Signal Corps as a photographer. He took pictures during the war of soldiers, planes, battles and later passports.
The Signal Corps managed communications that now includes military intelligence.
Ralph Seamon, 82 was in Navy demolition where he performed underwater demolition. It is the precursor to a Navy Seal. He was a gunner’s mate.
“Anything they told us to blow up we did,” Seamon said.
Seamon said he signed up for the war when he was only 14. He admitted his birth certificate says he was born in 1927, but his military records say 1925.
George Summers, 85, served in the Army Air Corps where he set up the darkroom for photographers.
In those days the dark room chemicals that needed to be kept also kept their beer cold, Summers said laughing.
Summers works at Trinity Oaks in the maintenance department.
The next flight is slated for Oct. 20.
For more information about Flight of Honor, visit www.flightofhonor.org.