The alarm went off at 4:00 in the morning for R.C. Littlefield. The 84 year old World War II veteran quickly got dressed, had some coffee and kissed his wife goodbye. It was finally October 2nd, the morning of a personal mission for R.C. and dozens of area veterans... all called to Washington DC to see how we appreciate their service to our country. "We almost waited too long for that for some of us", he said, as he raised his own flag outside his home and loaded his bags into his car.
It all started with a one day Telethon on KCBD to raise the 200 thousand dollars needed to send nearly 100 veterans to the nation's capitol, many with care-givers to assist them or push wheelchairs.
The South Plains Honor Flight is the result of a community coming together to honor those who lived World War II while tey still live among us. The drive to Lubbock International Airport was lined with flags. Inside, R.C. and all the veterans were welcomed with an Honor Guard reception. Mayor Glen Robertson was there in awe of the turnout. "The first responders in dress uniform, it's overwhelming really. I'm just thrilled. I can not wait to go." You see, on this first South Plains Honor Flight, Lubbock's Mayor paid his own way to ride along as a volunteer and to represent the city. But the "stars" here are the Greatest Generation... humble and grateful from the start.
Referring to the cheering crowd and the breakfast line prepared by volunteers, Harold Schultz, an 86 year old veteran who served in the Coast Guard, said "All these people here use their own time to come up here and do these things and we appreciate it so very very much." Fred Harvey, 77, who served in the Navy in Korea, said with tears in his eyes, "It's just overwhelming really. Thank you folks so much for being out here to help us get off."
After an impressive, pre-dawn sendoff, these area war veterans, some great-great grandfathers, boarded the Southwest charter flight with 3 and a half hours to reflect on what this trip means. Many read cards from area schoolchildren who wrote to thank them for their service.
Then, despite the rain in Washington, the group was greeted with a water cannon salute on the runway... and a reception of sailors and wellwishers in the terminal. One man who walked beside a veteran told the group, "This is Clyde Reeves. He's 95, the oldest man on the flight." And while all the people cheered, the memories returned. Nat Luger (93), who was in the Air Force during World War II, said "We had about six 500 pound bombs and I was the radio gunner when we went into combat." Harold Bertrand (87), added "Lots of memories that are hard to get over."
On tap for the next 3 days: 6 memorials, 3 museums, countless attractions and a tour of the Capitol building.
Eugene Heath (90) summed up the excitement. "We're lookinf for a great time today," he said. Even if you've seen D.C. before, we hope you will join us for this series this week... because it's different, more glorious… SEEING it through the eyes of our fore-fathers and hearing what they remember. Many talked about Iwo Jima at the airport, recalling the terrible days on that island before the Japanese surrendered in World War II. Nat Luger added, "It was the kind of war that we had to fight for democracy... and we feel it was worth every bit of it."
From the airport, our group boarded a bus...with sailors lining the street in salute of our departure.
Yet, the journey had just begun. To the surprise of the veterans, our first stop off the bus... was the very reason for the trip.
Join us Tuesday night on KCBD NewsChannel 11 at 10 when our special series, The South Plains Honor Flight", continues.
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