Honor Flight vets get warm reception

Published 1:43 am Saturday, October 6, 2018

They ranged in age from 61 to 94, and served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Vietnam veteran Joe Ramirez of Huntsville pauses to read the names of fallen soldiers on The Wall during Friday’s Honor Flight trip. | Photos courtesy of Covington Region Honor Flight

And for a 24 hour period that begin at 2 a.m. Friday and ended shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday, the 34 veterans and their guardians were honored participants in the Covington Region Honor Flight’s trip to Washington, D.C., where the itinerary included stops at the World War II Memorial, Kroean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial, the U.S. Air Force Memorial, and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

OJ Blount, who served in both WWII and Korea, is shown at the World War II Memorial on Friday. Blount lives just across the Escambia County line and is known locally for his expertise as a beekeeper.

It was the CRHF’s eighth trip to Washington.

“It was the highlight of 75 years on earth,” Bennie Bell Jr. of Prattville, who served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, said. “All of my family except one brother and two sisters served.”

Aside from O.J. Blount, who served in both WWII and Korea, Lonnie Starr of Hartselle was the only veteran of Korea to make this trip.

“I really liked the trip,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed everything except not getting to go to the Korean Memorial. I also got to spend some quality time with my son.”

His son, Robert Starr, served as his guardian for the trip. The Korean War Memorial was closed briefly Friday after a suspicious white powder was found there.

Vietnam veteran Michael Crow said the Honor Flight trip was his first visit to Washington, D.C.

“What I really liked best was Arlington Cemetery,” he said. “The silence, the respect everyone shows that was really impressive.”

Crow, a Navy veteran, lives in Montgomery.

Jon Riedel, who served in the Air Force in Vietnam and currently lives in Niceville, said the trip was well planned and organized.

“It was an exceptional experience, especially this greeting at airport,” he said.

The former soldiers received a standing ovation as they walked through Reagan National Airport.

“There was not a dry eye in the place,” Kendra Majors, CCHF board chairwoman said.

Pete Peterson of Niceville, who also served with the Air Force in Vietnam, said the highlight for him was the changing of the guard at Arlington.

Representatives of Congressman Bradley Byrne’s office met the veterans at the World War II Memorial, and representatives of Congresswoman Martha Roby’s office joined the group for dinner.

“We had an awesome group of veterans,” Majors said. “The welcome the veterans received at Reagan National Airport was moving and second to none. It was heartwarming and chilling to see our veterans get so much respect.”

The group plans another trip in the next 18 to 24 months.