Despite the rain, family and friends waved goodbye to World War II veterans Friday as they departed from the Shoney’s parking lot in Rockingham on their way to Charlotte.
The veterans spent the night in Charlotte, and in the morning they boarded the Flight of Honor to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II memorial, the Marine Corps memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
As the 120 veterans from all branches of the military arrive at Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 7 a.m., they will be greeted by an honor guard from the Junior ROTC unit at Marie G. Davis Military and Global Leadership Academy. The veterans will walk through an avenue of flags held by members of the Patriot Guard.
While waiting at the departure gate for Flight 9090, the veterans will be entertained by the WBT Briarhoppers bluegrass and country band. The music of the original WBT Briarhoppers was broadcast by CBS to the G.I.s serving in the European Theater during WWII.
The veterans will be accompanied by 50 guardians to assist them with wheelchairs, water and general comfort. There will also be 16 members of the flight team, including the flight leader, four team leaders, two flight physicians and two E.M.T.s.
Col. Larry Rogers, retired U.S. Army, has been the local chapter chair, and has organized Flight of Honor meetings and information for the veterans. He has dedicated many hours to making sure the departure and return go off without a hitch.
“I’m doing everything I can for them,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, who knows what we’d be doing today.”
Rogers is grateful to the veterans for their service, and places their safety and honor first in all respects of his planning. For the departure to Charlotte and the arrival back home in Rockingham, he has spoken to several sheriffs about escorts. In the past, officers of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office have escorted the veterans from the county line into town. For this trip, the escort is more elaborate.
“The Richmond County Sheriff’s (Office) will escort us to the county line,” Rogers said, “then the Anson sheriff’s department will escort us to the Union County line. Then the Union County sheriff will escort us to the Mecklenburg County line and then the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s (Office) will escort us to Highway 485. I spoke personally with all the sheriffs.”
Rogers said that last year, when the bus hit the county line and the veterans saw the flashing lights of patrol cars, they thought the bus was being pulled over.
The company that has been providing wheelchairs for the flights is going out of the wheelchair business and offered 50 of them to the Flight of Honor program at a very reasonable price. The Flight of Honor Committee is donating them to 11 different organizations in five counties.
After the flight Saturday, the wheelchairs that night will be turned over to members of the committee who will deliver them to the recipient organizations. Those organizations are Cabarrus County Parish Nursing, Cabarrus Health Academy, Cleveland County Hospice, Elder Orphan Care of Cabarrus County, Health Reach Clinic of Mooresville, Home Instead Senior Care, Hospice of Gaston County, Huntersville Outreach, Lifespan, Main Street Mission, and Union Academy Charter School.
“These three years of Flight of Honor have been a wonderful project to recognize the courage, perseverance and sacrifice of the World War II veterans,” said Kelly Morris, Flight of Honor Committee chair. “We had an opportunity to purchase the wheelchairs at a very reasonable price. Now the Flight of Honor can go on doing good for the 11 organizations that will receive the chairs Saturday night.
“The people who served on the Flight of Honor Committee have been honored and privileged to put together these flights as a small measure of appreciation for what these veterans did in saving the world from German Nazism, Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism,” Morris said.
The veterans from the Richmond County area fall under the Gastonia Rotary Club for Flight of Honor funding, and this will be the last trip for the Gastonia Rotary, as well as the Raleigh Rotary, according to Rogers.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ex. 43, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.