Four Douglas County war veterans got the flight of a lifetime when they were invited to join the Honor Flight of Southern Oregon in September to see the war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Vietnam veterans Troy Stone, of Glide, Toby Notenboom, of Winchester, and Dean Ewell, of Sutherlin, and Korean War veteran Carl Giles, of Days Creek, were invited to be on the Honor Flight on Sept. 18. The flight included 25 Southern Oregon veterans and their guardians, for a special flight and tour of the capitol.
The veterans had all applied for the Honor Flight, some as long as six years ago, and their names finally came up in September. They boarded an Alaska Airlines plane in Medford for the four-day trip that took the veterans and their guardians on tours of the Lincoln Memorial, the National Air and Space Museum, the Pentagon, the Smithsonian and Arlington National Cemetery. They were able to visit the memorials for each of the branches of service and the different wars.
It was an emotional experience, especially for Troy Stone, a 69-year-old U.S. Army Airborne veteran. The feeling was much different than the reception he got when he came home from Vietnam in 1969.
“The way they treated us was the best part of it. Above all, I think it was the gratitude of the people,” Stone said. “It was a re-welcome home because when I got off the medevac plane, I was wounded and at 1 o’clock in the morning at Ft. Houston, they were throwing tomatoes, calling us baby killers and all that.”
Toby Notenboom and Dean Ewell signed up for the Honor Flight about six years ago, and every year they would get an email that Vietnam veterans weren’t being taken yet. But this year they were informed that it was their time.
“It was busy, busy, busy the whole time,” Notenboom said. “We got to Washington, D.C. and there must have been 200 to 300 people there applauding and coming up and shaking our hands thanking us for our service.”
Ewell was a door gunner in a helicopter flying special forces beginning March 29, 1969, in Cambodia and was shot down three days later on April Fools Day.
“We got off in D.C. and had such a welcome, we had honor guards meet us from different branches of the service and walked us through the airport, and I’m not kidding, everybody stood up and clapped as we walked through, even people sitting at restaurants,” Ewell said. “It was amazing, it just really brought tears to your eyes.”
“That far exceeded anything I ever expected,” said 87-year-old Carl Giles. “I thought I was prepared for anything, but what I didn’t expect was the people at the airports and the people at home that sent letters back there, so we had this pile of mail, but the airports blew me away. I guess the most impressive thing was the way we were received everywhere we went.”
Carl Giles’ grandson, Matt Giles, a history teacher at Days Creek Charter School, was his guardian on the trip and he was thoroughly impressed with the Honor Flight program. But meeting a veteran who was in the first class of Navy Seals and a veteran of World War II, Vietnam and Korea, was a highlight for him.
“We were in the Navy Memorial Museum and I have a picture of him next to one of the old original diving suits because he was in World War II and did underwater demolition,” Mark Giles said. “It’s pretty overwhelming the amount of history we got to see and the amount of support the veterans received, and to get a chance to share that with my grandfather and as a history teacher that was pretty special to get to see that history first hand.”
At the Arlington National Cemetery, the group met Col. Jerry Farnsworth, chief of staff of Army National Military Cemeteries, who has roots in Oregon.
“(The visit to Arlington) was a big event there,” said Carl Giles, who served in Korea in 1952-53. “It’s massive — over 600 acres — and the guy that runs the whole cemetery found out there was a group from Oregon and said he wanted to meet us, and it turns out he is from Sweet Home.”
Stone said the group that raised the money and made the flight possible deserves a lot of credit.
“To do that is a fantastic thing and they’re going to keep it going because there are a lot of vets that still need to go,” Stone said. “It was so cool.”
Stone, who plays in a band, found a street musician near the World War II Memorial and struck up a conversation and the next thing he knew, they were playing together and it drew a crowd.
“There was a guy walking with a backpack and a guitar and I had my harmonica — I always bring it with me — so I just started playing with him and like a hundred people gathered around us as we were playing,” Stone said.
Honor Flight of Oregon is managed by volunteers who receive no compensation other than getting to meet and work with Oregon veterans. The non-profit group partners with Alaska Airlines transporting veterans to the war memorials twice a year. Airline officials say they have flown 46 Honor Flights and taken over 2,000 war veterans to see the memorials.
The plane was painted with special patriotic designs and dedicated to the veterans. The goal of Honor Flight of Southern Oregon is to help every Southern Oregon veteran willing and able to get on a plane, to visit their memorials.
Top priority is given to the most senior veterans — survivors of WWII and any veterans with a terminal illness who wish to visit his or her memorial.
For information on how to apply for the flight, email HonorFlightofOregon@gmail.com.