WWII vet reminisces on recent 'Honor Flight,' price of freedom

  • Published
  • By Capt. Angela Walz
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Fred Parish, a La Grande, Oregon, resident and Oregon National Guard veteran, received a trip to the nation's capital last month as part of the Honor Flight project's objective to take all WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the WWII Memorial.

"Almost 90 percent of WWII veterans who survived [the war] have passed away. Approximately 1,000 WWII veterans pass away daily across America. Our objective is to take all WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. as soon as possible," states the project's web site.

So on Sept. 18, Parish flew from the Portland International Airport, Oregon to Washington, D.C., for a - free of charge - four-day trip to visit the national WWII Memorial, the White House, Capital building, and 8 other D.C.-area attractions. Please enjoy this recount of Sgt. Parish's Honor Flight experience in his own words:

"Not long ago, this old Oregon Air National Guard founding member who was left-over from World War II had the privilege of joining 49 other World War II veterans for an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. This trip was sponsored by the Eastern Oregon and Portland area Honor Flight organizations. Each vet was accompanied by a guardian (generally a family member) who assisted and pushed the vet's wheelchair from place to place. 

All expenses for the veterans were underwritten by corporate donations or by generous private gifts. No taxpayer funds were used, and the guardians paid their own ways. My guardian was my son, Roger, who previously served as a Navy Chief and also as an Air Force Captain, now retired. Air transportation for the WWII veterans was donated by Southwest Airlines.

Obviously, the Honor Flight people are masters at detailed planning and scheduling. Every possible provision was made to care for the comfort and needs of us vets who are now in our late 80s or 90s. Also, accompanying the veterans were two doctors and two nurses in addition to the very competent Honor Flight director.

The tour group gathered at the Shilo Inn near the Portland International Airport on a recent Wednesday afternoon. The Shilo Inn generously donated dinner and overnight accommodations. Early Thursday morning, we boarded Southwest Airlines for a flight to Washington with a brief stop-over in Chicago. People along the way were most cordial. In Washington, D.C. tour busses were waiting to transport us to a Holiday Inn about an hour south of Washington. We settled in comfortably and prepared for the tours that began Friday morning.

Of course, the very first memorial on the agenda was the 7-acre WWII Memorial. Many people commented that this memorial was a bit late in coming into reality, but that it is now acknowledged as undoubtedly the grandest and most elaborate physical tribute of all of those in Washington, D.C. Nearly everyone had a camera in hand and they were working their view-finders to death in recording their impressions of this masterpiece of detailed planning, execution and craftsmanship. Many folks believe that all Americans should make an effort to visit our country's tribute to the men and women who have been termed "The Greatest Generation." Those who paid the ultimate price in World War II have not been forgotten.

Coming as a complete surprise at noon, the United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps marched into our memorial and treated us to a wonderful one-hour concert. Afterward the Marines, in their scarlet and snow-white uniforms, visited with our veterans and took pictures with us. This old Army Air Corps guy had to render a smart salute to the Corps on their precision, their military presentation, and their musicianship. They were excellent.

In addition to the WWII Memorial, the next two days were devoted to visits to the Lincoln Memorial, a tour of the Capital Building and a session with the Oregon Congressional delegation. Also included were the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Navy Memorial. 

Our trip was topped off by a respectful visit to Arlington National Cemetery. There, we visited the monument showing the Iwo Jima flag-raising and then we witnessed the perpetual protocol of the Army Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. We were privileged to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and it was most impressive. The ceremony is held day and night, rain or shine every thirty minutes around the clock, every day of every year and has been unbroken in any way since 1930. In addition, a memorial wreath was presented from the state of Oregon while we there. I praise the Army for their dedication in honoring our war unknown.

Finally that day we stopped by the Air Force Memorial with its gleaming spires soaring toward the skies. This memorial warmed the hearts of the WWII Army Air Corps veterans.

But all good things must come to an end. Very early Sunday morning, Southwest Airlines loaded us aboard their Honor Flight plane and flew us back to River City. As our plane taxied up to the PDX terminal, fire trucks shot columns of water arching over the plane. Then, with wheelchairs waiting on the ramp, each veteran was wheeled into a greeting fit for any Hollywood rock star. There were several law enforcement units in dress uniform, military members, the Vietnam Memorial motorcycle riders with their flags, and there were bagpipes playing. 

Literally hundreds of cheering civilians enthusiastically cried, "Thank you for your service!" Then, we were escorted through two hand-clapping lines which wound all the way from the end of the airplane ramp through the entire terminal to our waiting busses. As we were wheeled between the two enthusiastic lines, men shook our hands and gave us pats on the back while the ladies (young and older) passed out hugs for us WWII veterans.

Many folks termed us as heroes, but, that is now what most of us consider ourselves to be. During WWII, we had a job that had to be done so we did it. Too many Americans did not come home.  For those of us who did return, we recognize that freedom is not free.

Back at the Shilo Inn, the vets were presented with one last wonderful surprise.  Each of us received a beautiful and colorfully patriotic quilt handmade by the Pacific Northwest Quilters in appreciation for our service to this country.  Each quilt was individually dedicated to the veteran by name and each quilt was designated as a Valor Quilt.

"Things just cannot get any better than that."

Tech. Sgt. Parish was a participant in the largest military maneuver ever held in the Pacific Northwest - the Oregon Maneuver of 1943, which lasted for 90 days, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 1943. He was an original member of the 123rd Observation Squadron of the Oregon National Guard.

After entering federal service with the 123rd OS, Parish was transferred to the newly-created 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron to organize their medical detachment. He then attended the School of Aviation Medicine in Texas to become a certified flight surgeon's assistant, and transferred to Headquarters, 70th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, as medical section chief for the group. His job there was to coordinate and administer the medical services for all of the squadrons in the group. It was in this capacity that he participated in the Oregon Maneuver.

To read more about Sgt. Parish's military experience and the Oregon Maneuver as part of WWII, please revisit his previously published story on the 142nd Fighter Wing site: www.142fw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123358659.

For more information about the Portland Honor Flight project, visit their Web site at portlandhonorflight.org/.