The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Andrew Christiansen
Reporter 

Area vets go to DC on Honor Flight

 

Contributed

Three Goldendale veterans made the trip last month, including Wayne Eames, at right, with son Mike who traveled as a Guardian.

On May 27, Wayne Eames, Al Messenger, and Harold Bickel-all from Goldendale-boarded a flight out of Spokane to visit the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. They were accompanied by 70 of their World War II comrades, 15 Korean War veterans, and one Vietnam War veteran from around the country, on a trip that got its real start long ago when the men were in their teens and war broke out in Europe.

Upon their return from Washington, they described the trip with a range of emotions from fun and educational to deeply emotional. Fittingly, one of the most poignant moments of the trip was the greeting they received when they returned to Spokane, in a kind of a completion of a life's journey with a heartfelt show of appreciation for their sacrifice.

Eames first learned about Honor Flight last November. He called their Spokane office, and Assistant Director Deni Wiggins gave him information about the program and encouraged him to apply on-line, which he did. It was out of mind for weeks until Eames got a call in January from Wiggins, who told him that she was clearing out her holiday schedule and that he was on her call list for people to join the next Honor Flight. Eames asked if he could bring a couple of veteran friends, and the deal was set.

The Goldendale trio earned their right to the trip for service to their country between 1942 and 1946. Eames was in the Merchant Marines from 1942-46. He was in their service in Casablanca when he got a letter from President Roosevelt asking him to report to be drafted. The Merchant Marines were civilians who worked under Department of Defense contracts. He was going to report to the Navy but saw a message calling everyone back to the ship. He told the draft board of the recall to ship, and they informed him he should go. He ended up serving around the globe, passing over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas. Eames was at Iwo Jima when the famous flag was raised.

Messenger joined the Navy in 1943 and served on a mine sweeper. He was at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines when MacArthur made his return.

Bickel was drafted into the Army. He served from 1943-46 and went into the reserves upon his released from active duty. He served in Europe and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Bickel was reactivated for the Korean War and was assigned to Alaska.

The men were on the list for the Inland Northwest Honor Flight, one of a nationwide network of Honor Flights. According to their web page, the Honor Flight Network is based in Springfield, Ohio. It is a non-profit organization formed from two organizations that merged. One was Honor Flight, started in Ohio, and the other was Honor Air out of North Carolina. Both organizations were formed following the completion of the World War II monument in 2004, with the goal of taking World War II veterans to Washington D.C.

As stated on the national organization's web site, their goal is "helping every single veteran in America, willing and able to get on a plane or bus, visit their memorial." Any man or woman who served overseas or stateside is eligible. Their first priority is World War II veterans or any vet with a terminal illness. Some of the network sites, like Inland Northwest, have begun taking Korean War veterans, the next group on the list.

It is an immense undertaking with chapters in at least 41 states. There is a second Honor Flight organization in Washington, the Puget Sound Honor Flight and there are five in Oregon and one in Idaho. The Inland Northwest Honor Flight averages 120 veterans per year and has taken 892 veterans from Washington and northern Idaho, to date.

The trip is completely free for the veterans. The network depends on the work of volunteers and has many corporate and individual donors. They don't accept donations from veterans who have not been on an Honor Flight trip-as their site says, "They have given enough." Each veteran is assigned a "Guardian" for the trip. One Guardian may be responsible for one to three veterans. The Guardians pay $800 for their own way on the trip and have to meet certain criteria to be able to address any medical needs that may arise. One of the 66 Guardians for the recent trip was Mike Eames, Wayne's son, and a Vietnam-era veteran himself.

The men made their way to Spokane in Wayne's car. They boarded a charter plane and flew to Washington D.C. Upon their arrival, they were loaded onto three buses and took a tour of a number of memorials in the area before heading to their Sheridan Inn motel in Arlington, Va. They were treated to a banquet that night and were up for breakfast by 6 a.m. on May 28.

They spent the day touring more of the Washington, D.C., memorials, including Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The main stop however was the National World War II Memorial located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The memorial was built with $181 million in private donations and $16 million in federal funds. The memorial is a large ring of pillars with the names of each state around a Rainbow Pool. It includes a "Freedom Wall," 4,000 gold stars on a wall representing the 400,000 American lives lost in World War II.

The group worked their way through the Vietnam War memorial wall and sculptures and the Korean War memorial with 19 statues of soldiers on patrol with a wall of ghostly faces and the inscription "Freedom is not free."

It was an emotional experience for all of the men. Messenger was moved by witnessing Bickel's Guardian who was kneeling at the name of a friend inscribed on the Vietnam Wall.

"It was very emotional. The Korean memorial artistry was remarkable," said Messenger. "The wall behind was dark with grey faces that were like ghosts."

Bickel described the trip as "The most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I got to see the Lincoln Memorial. The hardest part was the Vietnam War Wall and Korean War memorials. It was very emotional, a wonderful trip."

Messenger was also moved by the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. Wayne echoed that, saying two things really got to his emotions, the changing of the guard and the welcome home they received in Spokane.

After the tours, they had a police escort to the airport and flew back to Spokane to wind up the whirlwind tour. But they were in for a huge surprise. Upon their arrival at the Spokane airport, the men were greeted by a large crowd and a band playing drums and bagpipes. People touched, hugged, and thanked the men for their service. "It was unbelievable," says Eames. "It was almost the high point of the trip."

Bickel agreed, "It was a bigger reception than I received when I came back from World War II."

"I was so impressed with the whole thing, the organization, planning was perfect and all with volunteers," said Messenger. He singled out a Spokane youth, Isaac Peterson, who took on the task of raising funds for Honor Flight. Peterson, who is 17 years old, raised $75,000, according to Messenger.

Contributed

Harold Bickel and Al Messenger, seated, in front of the Wall of Stars at the World War II memorial.

The men will share their experience with the community at 5:30 p.m. on June 20, at the Grace Brethren Church in Goldendale. They will share photos of the trip and no doubt tell stories of how impressed they were with the Honor Flight program.

It is typical of their generation: humble and appreciative. During their sharing of the experience with Goldendale Sentinel staff, there were hardly mentions of themselves. Their most moving experiences were associated with the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. They talked about their experiences with the Veterans Affairs Administration, having praise for the treatment they received. In typical selfless fashion, Messenger said he felt guilty about the good treatment he gets from the VA hospital, considering all the young men and women who are waiting in line.

There is a reason theirs has been dubbed "Our greatest generation."

 

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