Ready to fly

Published 11:59 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

Jesse T. “Jake” Boatwright may be a veteran of the U.S. Navy, but today he will get the chance to fly the friendly skies as he participates in the Covington Region Honor Flight.

The Flight, organized by a local group of volunteers in association with the Honor Flight Regional Network, will take roughly 40 Covington County veterans of World War II on a flight to Washington, D.C., where they will visit the World War II Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Boatwright, 87, on Friday. “Of course, when you reach my age, it’s hard to get too excited about anything. It’s a really nice gesture on the part of the community to show the support they have for us veterans.”

Boatwright said he joined the Navy when he was an 18-year-old in 1940. One year later, the war began when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. At the time, Boatwright was serving on the U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier, which periodically docked at the Hawaii naval port.

He said it was lucky circumstance that the ship was not stationed at Pearl Harbor during the time of the attack.

“We were approaching Pearl Harbor a few days before the start of the war, and we were delayed because of rough seas,” he said. “It ended up putting us in a day late (Dec. 8). There was another ship docked at the pier, at the same place where (the Enterprise) should have been docked, and the Japanese put seven or eight torpedoes into that ship; they thought it was us.”

Boatwright spent the entire war in the Pacific Theater, and served in the U.S. Navy for 21 years. He said his primary duty on board the aircraft carrier was to help supervise the loading of bombs into the ship’s air fleet.

“I was aboard her the entire time; she was quite a ship,” he said. “After the war, I stayed in the Navy for another 20 years, before I decided it was time to retire. I’d seen all the sea I wanted to see.”

Boatwright and the other veterans planned to leave Covington County at approximately 3 a.m. this morning. They were scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C, around noon and spend the next four hours visiting the World War II Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. They are scheduled to return to Covington County around midnight Sunday.

Future honor flights are planned, including one possibly as early as the fall, which would include Korean War veterans as well as those who served in World War II.

Those who are veterans of either war, or know a veteran of either war who is interested in applying for a seat on any honor flight, may pick up an application at the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce office, contact Tonitta Sauls at 334-493-3070, or contact any other CRHF board members, including Greg White, Pam Steele, Gary Petty, Dwight Mikel, Robert Williamson and Ashley Eiland.

Those who wish to contribute to the travel expense may send tax-deductible contributions to: CRHF, c/o Covington County Commission, P.O. Box 188, Andalusia, AL 36420.