WWII vets say Honor Flight to D.C. was great
By Mark Wineka firstname.lastname@example.org WASHINGTON, D.C. ó On Bill Stanback’s first day as a deck officer on the USS Gandy, the destroyer tracked down a German submarine, which was causing havoc in that particular area of the Atlantic. The Gandy sent down depth charges forcing the submarine to the surface. The Gandy then rammed the submarine and sank it. Not bad for the first morning of his first convoy. And it all happened before breakfast, Stanback recalls.
Welcome to World War II. Thanks to former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole of Salisbury, Stanback was among 105 World War II veterans who found themselves flooded by memories Tuesday when they made the John Hanford Memorial Honor Flight from Charlotte to Washington and back.
Central to the Washington visit was the veterans’ trip to the World War II Memorial, which sits in an awe-inspiring spot between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For many of the veterans, including Stanback, it represented their first ó and possibly, last ó chance to see the memorial, dedicated in 2004.
Most of the men in the group are well into their 80s now, even 90s. Dole gave a hefty donation to Rotary District 7680 Flight of Honor making Tuesday’s trip possible, and she accompanied the trip from start to finish, boarding a bus in Salisbury that took local veterans to the Charlotte airport where they met others from across the state.
From there, the group ó 186 total, when the vets’ guardians, Hanford family members and media were counted ó flew on a chartered US Airways flight to Reagan National Airport. In Washington, the veterans visited the World War II Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where they stayed for the 5 p.m. changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Their Washington tour in four different motor coaches also included driving by the U.S Navy and Air Force memorials before boarding their flight back for a heroes’ welcome at Charlotte-Douglas Airport. All along the Dole-financed trip, veterans were treated to police and Rolling Thunder escorts, cheering welcomes, special military programs, trip mementos, Clyde Young’s trumpet, cheers, handshakes, salutes and thanks for what they did, as Dole said, in saving the world for freedom and democracy.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, Elizabeth’s husband, met the group for lunch at the World War II Memorial. Bob Dole, who was seriously wounded in the war, chaired the fund-raising effort leading to the memorial’s construction, and he routinely meets Honor Flight groups at the shrine. The trip was done in honor of Elizabeth Dole’s late brother, John Hanford Jr., a Salisbury native who served on the USS Saratoga during World War II. To Dole, the Honor Flight named for her brother was her way of paying a living, loving tribute to him. Hanford, who grew the family business in Charlotte, died in April 2008 after more than a yearlong fight with cancer. His widow, Bunny, and sons John III and Jody, were among many family members participating in the trip.
An emotional Bunny Hanford said Tuesday’s Honor Flight tribute was “beyond anything we could believe.”
The bus back to Salisbury, with Dole aboard, pulled into the Salisbury depot about 10:30 p.m. with tired but fulfilled veterans aboard. “It was simply great, every minute of it,” Ralph Shaw of Lexington said. “Everything was just planned perfect.” For more on the John Hanford Memorial Honor Flight, read Mark Wineka’s column in Sunday’s Post.