While I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I took the time to get up at 4 a.m. to go down and watch Roswell Rotary making another run to Washington, D.C. with a planeload of World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans.
They call it an Honor Air Flight. For almost a decade now, the Roswell Rotary has been chartering a plane to fly these veterans to the nation’s capital that they might see in person the monuments honoring their service.
When it began, it as to take World War II vets to see the World War II memorial. Since they had to wait nearly 60 years before it opened, many veterans were too frail or in no financial position to visit their memorial.
When Roswell Rotary heard about North Carolina Rotary getting a flight together to take local vets to see it, it took about half-a-heartbeat to get a flight headed out of Roswell. But then that is the way Roswell Rotary operates.
They get an idea in their collective head and you had just better get out of the way. They organized one flight, then another and then another. They thought they had about exhausted the number of local World War II vets who had not yet seen it.
But like so many things those Rotarians do – they get snockered on that fried chicken they eat every Thursday and go off and organize another flight. Now to fill the seats, they have expanded Honor Air flights to include Korean War and Vietnam War veterans as well.
So I was up at Woodstock Road and Canton Street waiting to wave the buses on to Hartsfield Jackson Airport. Of course the Roswell Fire Department was already up with their ladder trucks forming an arch with a tremendous American flag spanning the street.
Then an honor escort of Roswell motorcycle police and the Patriot Guard Riders took them to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. When they come onto Ga. 400, all southbound traffic is stopped while these veterans enter.
Landing in Washington, D.C., they are greeted by all the people they can round up at the airport, and when they get outside to get on buses, a military band plays for them.
It is a wonderful thing they do.
Welcoming them back around 11 p.m., they are tired, weary but smiling ear to ear. Hubert Nix, U.S. Army, saw the destruction of Nagasaki in 1945.
John Cochran served in the Army during World War II. His brother was killed in Normandy July 15.
The trip to Washington was “unbelievable,” he said.
“When we walked into the airport at Washington, D.C., there were 11,000 people there to clapping and singing,” Cochran said. “We all got choked up.
“The Rotary could not have handled it better. When we landed, they shot water hoses over the plane in an arch,” he said.
He kissed his wife Jan, and as they left, it was hard to tell who was grinning wider.
I go to just get the warm fuzzy feeling when I see these old guys get off that bus. Loved ones come up and they are all excited to tell about the trip. It’s one day in their life, but it is a day they won’t forget.
Roswell Rotary does a lot for veterans. Last week they honored 97-year-old Navy man John Bostian. A lieutenant on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin, he saw combat in the Pacific where his ship was hit by two kamikaze planes in 1944 forcing it retire stateside for repairs.
Then it was bombed and nearly sunk in the campaign for the Philippines. Yet somehow the Franklin’s determined crew returned again to the U.S., negotiating the Panama Canal to New York Harbor in 1945.
The Franklin suffered the most men killed in those two actions of any American ship that was not subsequently sunk. It is second only to the USS Arizona for the most men killed in action.
Bostian and all who sailed on the Franklin are true American heroes.
Of course the Roswell Rotary is just getting warmed up this year. On Memorial Day the Rotarians will again be spreading out the chairs on the lawn at Roswell City Hall in what is reputed to be the largest Memorial Day service in Georgia.
They are just guys like the rest of us. But Roswell Rotary Remembers.