Payson may be a small town, but that doesn’t mean everyone knows their neighbor. Proof of that came out visiting with four Payson veterans of World War II who recently enjoyed an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
Ray Kinsman, who is well known around the community for his efforts on behalf of the Salvation Army, picked up a brochure about the Honor Flight program at the 2011 Aero Fair at the Payson Airport.
“The Marines had a booth there and I saw a brochure (for the program) and picked it up,” Kinsman said.
He told Art Stone about it and Stone suggested Phil Meyers look into it too.
Al Rusch had been scheduled to be on an Honor Flight earlier this year, but there was a mix up and he didn’t get to make the trip when he initially planned.
So, the four — Kinsman, Stone, Meyers and Rusch — were among the 33 World War II veterans who were flown back to Washington, D.C. in mid-September from Arizona.
Until the flight, Kinsman had not met either Meyers or Rusch. Now, they are all telling tales on one another like they have been buddies for years.
The Honor Flight trip gave them a chance to connect, not only with one another, but also with almost 30 other World War II veterans from around the state and share the stories of their service.
Kinsman, who will be 87 in October, served in the U.S. Army and was a prisoner of war in Hanover, Germany and awarded the Purple Heart.
Meyers, 84, was in the U.S. Navy and served aboard LST 1049 that landed on the beach on D-Day. He was also sent to Hiroshima, Japan just a few days after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city.
“We were in a hotel (on a top floor) that was still standing, though the floors were sagging and you could see the support structures. We looked out one of the windows and for miles around there was nothing,” he said. Walking through the area, they came across about 12 people still alive, and maybe six of them could speak English.
“There I was, an 18-year-old and I wondered how many of us would have been able to speak Japanese (if it was us in their place),” he said.
Rusch, who will be 88 in November, served with the U.S. Army and landed on Utah Beach, a couple of months after D-Day, June 6, 1944, and fought his way across Europe ending in Czechoslovakia. He was awarded a Bronze Star.
Stone, who is 83 going on 84, was with the U.S. Navy during World War II (though he went on to serve with the U.S. Air Force), and was also a recipient of a Purple Heart.
He said the ages of the Arizona veterans on the trip ranged from 81 to 93 or 94.
The Honor Flight trip gave the men a chance to connect with the heritage many of them helped create through their service to our country.
In addition, the trip allowed the veterans to experience the gratitude their fellow citizens feel they are due.
That experience came not only through visiting the monuments that grace the nation’s capital, but also with the reception they received at the airports through which they traveled.
Their departure gate was a good distance from the desk where they checked in. As they started to make their way to the gate, their presence was announced over the Sky Harbor public address system and people starting applauding them, reaching out to shake their hands and saluting. The same thing happened when they arrived in Baltimore, when they departed and once again when they arrived back in Phoenix.
“It embarrassed the heck out of me,” Rusch said.
“It was overwhelming,” Stone said.
“It was amazing,” added Kinsman.
Just about every aspect of the trip, Sept. 13-15, was amazing to hear the four Payson men tell it.
“I knew it was well organized, but I didn’t know how well,” said Stone. He said the Honor Flight volunteers thought of everything — from making sure everyone stayed together with almost fluorescently bright yellow T-shirts; providing everyone with a detailed itinerary, which included reminders for participants to take their morning medications; preordering meals; and providing “guardians”
for the veterans who were in wheelchairs or needed special attention.
Stone said for the 33 veterans on the trip, there were 22 guardian/chaperones. “And all those chaperones paid their own way,” he added.
Of all the monuments and memorials they saw, all four men were most impressed by the World War II Memorial and seeing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, where another group of Honor Flight veterans had representatives in wheelchairs place the wreath.
Meyers added meeting Bob Dole was also a highlight for him. Stone also found the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (the Iwo Jima statue) memorable.
Rusch was also impressed when the group visited Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, from which the flag inspiring Francis Scott Key’s 1814 “The Star-Spangled Banner,” flew during the War of 1812. That flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes, at the time, it was the practice to add one star and stripe for each new state joining the Union, in 1814, the United States flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes.
That original flag is now in the Smithsonian, but the park flies a huge replica of it — with the 15 stars and 15 stripes — and the Arizona veterans were allowed to fold the flag during their visit.
In addition to the sites that impressed the Payson men, they also had a tour of the U.S. Capitol and saw the Navy and Lincoln Memorials. They were treated to two banquets, breakfasts and a box lunch from Arby’s during the Sept. 14 tour day, which started with a 5:30 a.m. (Eastern time) wake-up call.
The memorable sites and events did not end when they boarded their return flight to Arizona. Once they were settled and airborne, the Honor Flight officials shouted, “Mail call!” and handed each of the 33 Arizona veterans on board a stack of letters and cards from family, friends, acquaintances, schoolchildren and members of their churches.
“It was a total surprise,” Stone said. As the letters and cards were read, more than a few folks, both veterans and nearby civilians, started crying.
While the trip was free for the veterans, Stone made an effort to collect Rim Country donations for the Honor Flight Arizona program. He said the Tonto Apache Tribe, Messinger’s, other businesses and individuals contributed about $4,000 to the program.
Kinsman said he plans to start sending the program something every month because he was so impressed with all it did for them.
About Honor Flight Arizona
Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. It transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to World War II veterans.
Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened the very existence of the nation — and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with hundreds of World War II veterans dying each day, time to express thanks to these brave men and women is running out, say Honor Flight officials.
Arizona is the 28th state to offer Honor Flights. The desire of the organizers is to fly as many WWII veterans from Arizona to Washington, D.C. as possible, with no cost to them.
Honor Flight was conceived when the WWII Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 2004, to acknowledge what these men and women had accomplished. At that point, only one in four WWII veterans was still alive.
Earl Morse, a retired Air Force captain and physician’s assistant, was working in a VA facility in Ohio. He listened as the elderly veterans spoke of wanting to visit the memorial. Recognizing their lack of financial resources and physical stamina, Morse, a private pilot, asked some of the vets if they would like him to fly them gratis to see the memorial. When hearing the offer, many of these elderly warriors broke down in tears.
The first flight consisted of 12 veterans in four small planes and Honor Flight was born. By the end of 2010, 50,000 veterans had traveled from 95 “hubs” across the country to experience the memorial dedicated to them, with Honor Flight.
Honor Flight Arizona is a non-profit organization that began at the end of 2008 and flew its first trip of 25 veterans in November 2009. By the end of 2010, 163 Arizona veterans had traveled to see their memorial.
Volunteer “guardians” pay their own way to accompany the veterans on the three-day trip. They assist with wheelchairs and otherwise ensure the veterans’ safety when loading/unloading the buses and planes.
Frequently, the guardians simply lend a listening ear to an emotional veteran who is remembering a painful experience or a lost friend.
Honor Flight Arizona is part of the Honor Flight Network that establishes protocols and maintains a national Web site, www.honorflight.org.
Honor Flight Arizona is a 100 percent volunteer organization. In addition to fund-raising, and maintaining a veteran database, volunteers plan all aspects of each trip to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. This includes meal planning, hotel accommodations, safe passage through security, water, snacks, wheelchairs, tours, flight planning, boarding passes, welcoming activities, banquet dinners with guest speakers and ensuring that the families are aware of all plans.
The cost of each three-day trip is more than $850 per veteran. Each trip of up to 35 veterans is almost $30,000.
The goal in 2011 is to fly seven trips to Washington, D.C. There are more than 500 veterans on the waiting list to participate and some have been waiting more than two years due to lack of funds. The average age of these veterans is 88 years old. All too frequently, when a call is made to a veteran to fly, he has become too ill or weak to travel.
WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 to 1,500 per day. The window of time to assist them in seeing their national monument is closing. Help is needed to say “thank you” before the opportunity is gone.
Assistance is needed to complete the mission of assisting any WWII veteran who has signed up to experience his or her memorial. Many who have taken this journey have called it the trip of a lifetime.
Visit the program’s Web site to see how to participate. All donations are tax deductible.
For more in-depth information and history of Honor Flight, visit www.honorflight.org.