‘Honor Flight’ offers WW2 vets visit to ‘their’ memorial
It's called the “Honor Flight.”
Through a volunteer program started nationally seven years ago, World War II veterans around the country are getting the chance for three-day paid trips to Washington, D.C., to visit the National World War II Memorial and other sites.
Jane Rodgers, who a year and a half ago helped organize monthly lunches for veterans at the Peak Grill, recently led the formation of a local chapter, the Honor Flight of Southern Colorado (HFSC).
Its goal is “to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices,” Rodgers said. “We will transport our heroes to Washington, D.C., so they can visit and reflect at 'their' memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans - WWII survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.”
The hope of Rodgers and other supporters is to raise enough money for HFSC's first flight by November - focusing on the 50-some Peak Grill group - then continue the effort on behalf of the rest of the 23,000-some veterans living in southern Colorado.
The flight cost for each veteran is about $800. The HFSC is seeking donations, as well as volunteers to help with fundraising and even to serve as guardians for the veterans on their trips.
Rodgers, the wife of a Vietnam veteran, pointed out a certain urgency in the project. “These vets from the Greatest Generation are all in their high 80s and 90s,” she said. Locally, two veterans who had been part of the Peak Grill group recently passed on, and nationally, “our war heroes are dying at over 1,500 a day.”
She offered an e-mail address for those who'd like to help with the HFSC: firstname.lastname@example.org. The HFSC's website is www.honorflightsoco.org.
For the June lunch, in honor of D-Day June 6, 1944, the Peak Grill served the veterans lunch at no charge. The restaurant, owned by Randy and Nancy Bolen at 4423 Centennial Blvd., was nearly full of vets and their family members.
The main speaker for the lunch was Henry “Duke” Boswell, a paratrooper who had jumped into Normandy with thousands of other Allied soldiers the night before D-Day. “Our objective was to keep the German troops from getting to the beaches [where Allied troops would be landing],” Boswell explained.
“Flying over the channel, I looked out the window and saw more ships than I'd seen in my life. There were big ships and little ships. There might even have been some rowboats. I thought how can we lose with this big of a force?”
For most of the paratroopers, the night did not go according to plan. In fact, Boswell's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was the only one fortunate enough to hit its prescribed drop zone, he recalled. Others wound up 1 to 15 miles away from theirs.
But the 505th's jump still had its perils. “They were shooting at us, of course,” Boswell said. “One of every 10 was a tracer bullet that you could see and feel like you dodged it. But you also knew that 9 out of 10 were bullets you didn't see.”
He estimated that overall “we probably lost about 50 percent of our troops.”
Two other veterans at the June lunch spoke briefly - about the skill and bravery of England's Royal Air Force, which, by shooting down so many Luftwaffe planes, prevented Nazi Germany from invading before D-Day; and about the less-remembered invasion of Saipan in the Pacific Theater starting nine days after D-Day, which ended up with close to 15,000 American casualties.
The lunch kept the Peak Grill staff busy, the Bolens included. When it was suggested that it was good the restaurant can afford to provide so many free lunches, Randy Bolen replied, “We can't.” Then he added, “But we can't afford not to.”
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