Veterans share experiences after honor flight
LVN Editor Emeritus
Veterans on the latest Honor Flight Nevada to the nation’s capital recalled situations in their lives after they returned home from Washington, D.C.
Standing behind a 20-mm gun at the Navy Museum in Washington, Navy veteran Bruce Robison, who served aboard the USS St. Louis, a Brooklyn-class light cruiser, during World War II, recalled a day when Japanese aircraft strafed a harbor in the South Pacific.
“We were working on an LST (landing ship-tank) off the beach,” he said. “Enemy planes came over trying to clear the harbor. They came pretty close to us, and I was shooting.”
During the short fight, shrapnel struck Robison, but the sailor didn’t notice he was hit until a shipmate told him he was bleeding and blood dotted the deck.
“I continued to stay and be strapped in until the planes were gone,” he explained.
Once the planes departed the harbor, Robison, who was later awarded a Purple Heart medal, went to sick bay for treatment.
Robison, along with other veterans and guardians, returned to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Sunday after spending four days in Washingto. visiting the military memorial built in honor of the veterans who fought in the nation’s wars. With a standing room crowd jamming the downstairs welcoming area, Brian Kulpin, vice president of the airport authority’s marketing and public affairs, welcomed them home.
“Today, we celebrate and honor 30 brave and selfless men and women,” he said.
Kulpin acknowledged the wars in which they fought, saying some of the veterans fought in two wars, others in three. Shouts and clapping came from family and guests who waited almost an hour for the veterans to arrive back in Reno. Blue Star families, who have a family member serving in the military, waved miniature flags and held posters. Patriot Guard Riders formed a welcome line, each holding a U.S. flag.
Kulpin then looked at many of the veterans before speaking again.
“This is not the welcome they received when they came home from those wars,” he said. “I hope we did a better job today.”
Kulpin said this was the 29th Honor Flight Nevada, but he announced another milestone. The trip included the 1,000th veteran who has taken an honor flight trip since 2012 from Northern Nevada to Washington.
Many veterans who spent a whirlwind trip to Washington said they enjoyed visiting the memorials and also the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jon Yuspa, executive director of Honor Flight Nevada, said many of the older veterans resonated with the museum exhibits.
“The guards helped the veterans with some of their questions, and some (guards) asked the vets about their stories,” Yuspa said.
Reidar Lindgard of Reno, who served in the 130th Infantry Regiment, agreed.
“The holocaust museum really got to me,” he said, “and after that, the memorials were all good.”
Lindgard, now 93 years old, entered the military at Ft. Snelling, Minn. He served six years in the active Army and six more in the U.S. Army Reserve. During the latter stages of World War II in a firefight, Germans surrounded a house in which Lindgard and other soldiers were inside and captured them.
Another Army veteran, Thomas Kawamoto, fought in the Korean War.
“I will never forget it,” he said of the flight. “I will take it with me to my eternal life. It was beautiful. It was wonderful”
When he served in Korea, Kawamoto said he remembers seeing the poverty and horrid living conditions, but he knew why he was fighting the communists there.
“We went there to fight and preserve peace,” he added. “I was proud of that.”
Kawamoto’s family, though, had experienced something different from the others. The U.S. government placed his family in a Japanese internment camp in California during World War II. His older brother, though was able to serve in the Army during World War II but only in Europe.
George Oliver of Sparks came from a family of seven brothers who served in the military — mostly the Army and Navy — during World War II. The seven boys were born to a father who was also the seventh son. Oliver, who was the youngest, said one brother served in the Pacific Theater, another brother served on the battleship USS North Carolina, and another brother served in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.
One of Oliver’s brothers, however, didn’t return. He was shot down by German antiaircraft fire and killed, and his remains were interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial. Yuspa said Oliver, a Navy veteran, visited his brother’s grave several years ago for the first time.
During the final months of the war, Oliver was preparing to sail to Japan, but he didn’t go because of the emperor’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.
“I just did my duty,” he said.
Oliver said he enjoyed the visit to Washington.
“I spent time in the holocaust museum,” Oliver said of the honor flight. “We had a lot of things to do. I spent some time in the cemetery (Arlington National Cemetery) and reflected.”
Retired U.S. Air Force and Southwest Airlines pilot Ken McKean has been on both ends of an honor flight. As a commercial pilot before retiring, he flew veterans to the east coast; now, as a Vietnam War-era and Desert Storm veteran, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate was a passenger on a flight.
“I knew what to expect on the flights,” he said. “But the folks in Baltimore and here (Reno) brought tears to our eyes (during the arrival reception). I also saw that as a (SWA) captain, and it impacted me the same way.”
McKean said he enjoyed visiting the U.S. Air Force and Iwo Jima memorials and the Navy Museum. Another memorial that stood out for him was the World War II memorial.
Fernley veteran Harry Wheeler, a retired Navy chief petty officer who served from 1965-68 on the aircraft carrier USS Princeton, said the trip was “unbelievable.” He said the Korean War Veterans Memorial impacted him.
“The Korean War was the most interesting one to see,” he said. “It was very real, so lifelike.”
After his service in the Navy, Wheeler enlisted in the Nevada Air National Guard.
According to a description from the memorial’s website, “the 19 stainless steel statues … are approximately seven feet tall and represent an ethnic cross section of America. The advance party has 14 Army, three Marine, one Navy and one Air Force members. The statues stand in patches of juniper bushes and are separated by polished granite strips, which give a semblance of order and symbolize the rice paddies of Korea. The troops wear ponchos covering their weapons and equipment. The ponchos seem to blow in the cold winds of Korea.”