The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jim Fisher
For The Sentinel 

Goldendale veteran gets Honor Flight to D.C.

 

Jim Fisher for The Sentinel

HONORED VET: Harold Hill, here at his home, was in the nation's capital last week on an Honor Flight.

Harold Hill, World War II combat veteran and lifelong resident of Klickitat County, flew to Washington D.C. last week as part of an Honor Flight and tour for veterans who have served during our nation's wars. He was joined by 44 other World War II vets and another 45 who served in the Korean War. The group spent two days touring the nation's capital, visiting a plethora of memorials and other points of interest by day and being toasted at banquets by night.

A group called Inland Northwest Honor Flights [INHF] arranged the trip, which was paid for by donations from the public. INHF has been honoring our local Veterans in this manner since 2006. This most recent trip was the 25th that the group has organized, and this flight brought the total number of those honored by the group to 982.

INHF is this region's own hub of a much larger, nationwide network of organizations that strive to provide veterans with opportunities such as the one just given Harold Hill. The group's website boils their mantra and mission down to a quote from historian Stephen Ambrose's book Citizen Soldiers:

"At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew right from wrong, and they didn't want to live in a world where wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful."

Hill wound up as a leader of these "citizen soldiers" during the Second World War in the European Theater of Operations. As a lieutenant he led a company of infantrymen of the 99th Division, which saw extensive combat on its drive from the freshly captured beaches at Normandy into the very heart of Nazi Germany through the war's end.

He wound up on an eastbound flight out of Spokane last Thursday because this summer he happened to stumble across a picture of an old friend (and one-time Goldendale resident) in the Yakima Herald who was receiving an Honor Flight. Hill tracked down a phone number for the friend, who he had lost contact with years ago, and reconnected with him. The friend urged Hill to come along on the next flight and he readily agreed. "We had a good time together, he and I. We kind of went along as a pair." said Hill.

During their two day trip the vets spent time visiting the capital's many war memorials and monuments and stopped by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Hill, who had last been to D.C. nearly a decade ago, was pleasantly surprised by how many new features had been added to the area since his last visit, including the expansive National World War II Memorial which was not completed until 2004.

It was plain by hearing him talk about the trip that Hill had deeply enjoyed himself. "The weather was absolutely astounding!" Hill is no stranger to the east coast; he regularly attends reunions held there by members of his old Army division, which was drawn mostly from eastern boys in the early 1940s.

Hill estimates that now there are only somewhere around 200 surviving members of the 99th division, which once numbered more than 7,000 men. Travel can be difficult now for some members nowadays, but they try to get together whenever possible. He was recently invited to return to Europe this December for a "Battle of the Bulge Reunion" on another Honor Flight style program that is headed by newsman and The Greatest Generation author Tom Brokaw.

Hill has opted to decline that invitation after some long and serious thought, for a mixture of reasons. For one, he says he enjoyed his Honor Flight to D.C. so much that somewhere near the Reflecting Pool on Friday he decided that "Boy, If we are gonna go do anything, we oughta get back here again and take our time to really go see this place." He was also reluctant to leave home so close to the holidays, which was when the Bulge Reunion trip was scheduled.

The chilly weather is another reason Hill will not soon be returning to the place where he and his men nearly froze to death while fighting for their lives against the massive surprise attack 70 years ago. "I've been there in the winter before, and I'm not really crazy about going back in the winter again. I think I'd like to that forest much better in the summer," Hill grinned.

Hill hasn't set foot in Europe since he was a young man leading even younger men into battle. Many of his experiences there were not very enjoyable, and his feelings about returning at all are complex. "With the tours over there, there are about 60 or 70 of you on a bus, just kind of getting herded from spot to spot. I think if I did it, I'd like to just go myself, rent a car and see what I want. Maybe someday, we'll see. Truthfully, I am not too anxious to dig up some of those old memories anyway."

 

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