Veterans look forward to Oct. 3 Honor Flight

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2014

Spurlin did surgery in Vietnam; Paulsen saw 3 wars

It’s going to be a busy day for retired Army Col. Norman Paulson as the Millbrook resident will take part in the 2014 Honor Flight on Sat., Oct. 4.

Paulson, who served in World War II, as an engineer in the Korean War and a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, will be one of many older veterans going to the nation’s capital to visit war memorials during the trip.

Dr. Richard Spurlin

Dr. Richard Spurlin

The Covington Region Honor Flight Board of Directors sponsors and plans the trip.

Paulson, 90, spent 33 years in the Army and retired as a full colonel in 1976 while serving at Ft. Rucker.

When asked for any memories of when he served in the Army, Paulson said it’s hard to remember because about a year and a half ago, he lost most of his sight and memory.

But one thing he does remember is how cold it was in Korea, where he built and destroyed bridges, his daughter, Deborah Kennedy who will be Paulson’s guardian on the trip, said.

Paulson told a story in which he was given a coat and rifle from a lieutenant in the Marine Corps. before starting his tour in Korea.

Norman Paulson

Norman Paulson

“You still have those pistols he gave you, don’t you?” Kennedy inquired.

The one memorial Paulson said he’s most excited to visit is the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

During Vietnam, Paulson commanded 16 groups of soldiers with 5,000 in each platoon.

“They boosted me to full colonel there,” Paulson said. “Then, I was pulled out and went to Germany. There, I led three units and I was in Mannheim (Germany) for three years.”

Paulson was a young 18 years old when he entered World War II. He was involved in chemical warfare training a little closer to home in Gadsden at that time.

“We just really appreciate everything the community has done,” Kennedy said. “(Honor flight board member) Greg White has been so helpful to make sure that dad got on this trip. We know for him, it was going to be now or never.”

Also going on the trip is Dr. Richard Spurlin of Opp.

Spurlin, a former Air Force war surgeon, said he is looking forward to seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“I’ve never seen it in person,” Spurlin, who served from 1965-66 in Vietnam, said. “I’ve only seen pictures of it.”

Spurlin said the most legs he had to amputate in one day was nine during the conflict.

“It was an ordeal,” he said.

Spurlin is board certified in family medicine, but did a lot of his post graduate studies in surgery.

“So, that year (in Vietnam), I did more surgery than I did in a five-year residency,” he quipped.

He said his year in Vietnam was “unusual,” noting that he worked for several different agencies.

“I was in the Air Force, on loan to the state department for a year, attached to the Army and worked in the Vietnamese hospital,” Spurlin said. “I drove a stolen Navy jeep for 10 months before they found it.”

For his protection, Spurlin said he had a CIA agent assigned to him as an interpreter.

One fond memory he has was when his wife, Sarah, was supposed to meet him in the Philippines.

“The CIA agent was able to call up a forward air controller and get me a flight into Saigon to meet my wife,” Spurlin said.

Spurlin served in the Air Force from 1962-67, and then came back to serve at Maxwell Air Force Base. Before his stint in Vietnam, he served at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“I was there for 18 months before getting the order to go to Vietnam,” he said. “I was the only one from the base that went. I got picked by General Humphreys, who was my chief of surgery. He knew I was good with my hands. So, he chose me for that job with the state department.”