Jack Sullivan applied a year and a half ago for an Honor Flight, but he was more than happy to be boarding a motor home Friday for a free road trip through the organization to the nation’s capital.
“We once put a plane down in the Sea of Japan,” the 82-year-old Korean War veteran from South Charleston explained. “I think I’ll be happier with four wheels.”
Honor Flight Dayton embarked Friday morning from Springfield with 16 veterans aboard five motor homes on its 14th RV trip — a little-known alternative to an actual Honor Flight that offers a less intense itinerary and more immediate openings for area veterans who’ve longed to see their war memorials in person.
Honor Flight Dayton is the local hub of Honor Flight Network, the national organization founded in Springfield in 2005, and still based here, to fly World War II veterans to Washington, D.C.
The concept caught on, and Honor Flight now has hubs in 41 states.
Volunteers on Friday sported shirts that read on the back, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.”
Whether by air or by land, a trip costs a veteran nothing, and many hubs have started accepting Korean War veterans.
“It doesn’t matter how old they are, when they get back from this trip, they have a spring in their step and a smile on their face,” said Dian Holland, a Clark County resident who coordinates Honor Flight Dayton’s RV program and was set to make her 13th road trip.
Direct combat experience isn’t a requirement to qualify for a trip.
“My combat duty there consisted of being the post baseball team’s catcher,” recalled Mike Carey, an 83-year-old Urbana resident who joined the Ohio Army National Guard in 1945, and ended up in Germany from 1952 to 1953, a time when West Germany was still under the occupation of Allied military forces.
The three-day journey to Washington and back — by comparison, a literal Honor Flight is done in a single day — began Friday like it always does, with a celebratory breakfast at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8673 on Leffel Lane for the veterans and their guardians.
Sullivan was a pre-med student at Ohio State University when he was drafted during the Korean War, but it was coincidental that he ended up serving in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or MASH, arguably the world’s most well-known acronym thanks to the classic TV series of the same name.
“It was better than carrying a rifle,” he reasoned.
And, yes, it would’ve been remiss not to ask — was it anything like the show?
“They were all pretty crazy people,” said Sullivan, who returned home and became a doctor himself with a family practice in South Charleston.
Some veterans on Friday, like James Wilson, were making their very first trip to the nation’s capital.
Wilson, an 80-year-old Dayton resident who received the Purple Heart for his service with an infantry unit in Korea, was anxious to see the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.
“It’ll probably bring back some bad memories,” Wilson said, “but I think I can handle it.”
This past July marked the 60th anniversary of that war’s end with an armistice that still barely remains in place to this day. More than 36,500 Americans died trying to stop the spread of communism on the peninsula.
The last time George Hyatt, 84, visited Washington, he personally met President Harry Truman before leaving for Korea, where he received the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars.
“Didn’t even get any pictures,” Hyatt said with a laugh. “Back then, we were too poor to have a camera.”
Hyatt, a native and resident of Morehead, Ky., had been en route in 1951 to Fort Meade in Maryland with two dozen other Army draftees when their train had a layover in Washington, and they all ended up at the White House.
“He wasn’t any different than talking to you. Today, you can’t even get close to the White House,” Hyatt recalled. “He said, ‘Take care of our country.’ I said, ‘We’ll do our best.’”
Hyatt’s wife, Juanita, drove her husband more than three hours to Springfield so he could take part in Friday’s Honor Flight trip.
“As long as they can get to Springfield, Honor Flight Dayton will take them,” Holland said.
Jackie Brown, president of the VFW Post 8673 ladies’ auxiliary that prepares and serves the free breakfast, knows firsthand how rewarding an Honor Flight trip is for both veterans and families.
Her father, Bill Keener, a Navy veteran from Springfield, was able to take an Honor Flight before his death last year.
“My dad was a quiet man,” Brown said. “When he came back, he wouldn’t stop talking for hours. That’s how I found out he was at Iwo Jima.”