April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Local veterans take Honor Flight to visit memorials

By HSJ Online [email protected]

Several Hope veterans and volunteers took part in a recent Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. to visit the war memorials.

Bob Gilliland of Hope served in the U.S. Army for three years during and after the Korean War, assigned as a "light commander" using large spotlights to illuminate battlefields and events. He had never made a trip to D.C. to see the memorials, but when he found that his cousin, Ike Wasson, had signed up, he also volunteered.

"I had heard about it, but I never dreamt that I would be able to go," Gilliland said. "I thought my chances were obsolete, so I didn't give it a whole lot of thought until I signed up for it. And I was really shocked when I got drawn for it. It is something that I am really, really glad that I got to see."

"It was really great, it was probably the best time I have ever had in my life," Gilliland said.

The most recent Hope contingent traveled over Labor Day weekend. It included Gilliland, Wasson and volunteer handlers, or "Guardians," Ben Miller and David Burton. The Rev. Warren Kirk also made the trip as a Guardian for Columbus resident Bob Condon.

Kirk said it was his first time volunteering, but he definitely plans to go again. He said the trip was very impactful for the veterans themselves.

"If you were to ask any one of them, they would say that it was absolutely awesome," Kirk said. "I can't imagine, in the scheme of things, that any of them could keep from shedding a tear or two during the day."

The service, free to the former service members, allows aging veterans who have never visited, or who can not afford to visit, a chance to see the memorials on the National Mall. In Indiana, the veterans and the Guardians attached to them, gather in Plainfield at the high school there. They have a meet-and-greet dinner, spend the night in hotels and then leave early on Saturday morning, taken to the airport by school buses. They then take a charter flight to Washington D.C.

The day trip takes them to Arlington Cemetery, and the memorials for Vietnam, Korea and World War II, along with the Lincoln Memorial .

Gilliland said he was most impressed with the Korean War monument which features statues of soldiers patrolling through a rice paddy. But of special interest on his trip, a group of Korean tourists were visiting at the same time and expressed their admiration for the veterans service.

"That kind of made it for me," Gilliland said.

Susan Thayer-Fye, also of Hope, has been involved in the trips both as a Guardian and as a member of the "ground crew," the volunteers who handle arrangements and meals in Plainfield. She said she didn't realize the full importance of the trip until she saw veterans interacting with the World War II memorial.

"I had been to that memorial before," Thayer-Fye said. "But when I went last fall, as a Guardian for a gentleman from Seymour, the tidal wave of emotion that hits you -- I didn't see it coming. It was something I had never experienced before. To watch these guys, these men and women... to kind of relive what they went through all those years ago? It is like it is all brand new. Like it is all starting over again. You just hear them talk and you can't believe how it affects them.

"When you are standing there as a Guardian watching them, you realize how important it is, because a lot of those folks from World War II did not talk about the war. I know, my dad was one, and he didn't talk about the war until right before he died. It is almost like closure for them."

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