ZEELAND, Mich., and HOMER GLEN, Ill. (July 2015) — Two Providence Life Services residents recently traveled on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that flies veterans to see the war memorials built in their honor. Read about the veterans’ experiences below.
Elmer Witte at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Elmer Witte, a 92-year old resident of Victorian Village in Homer Glen, Ill., was a B-29 bomber in World War II. His daughter first mentioned the honor flight to him, and encouraged him to go on the one-day visit to the nation’s capital. But for Elmer, the highlight of the trip didn’t come in Washington, D.C., — it was in nearby Chantilly, Virginia. That’s where he saw the Enola Gay, which is on display at the World War II Aviation exhibition station at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Elmer had seen the aircraft before — on Tinian in August of 1945. He was driving a gunner around the island in a Jeep when they came upon the Enola Gay — and something mysterious near it, covered and guarded by military police.
“I joked to the gunner that they must have gotten a shipment of booze,” Elmer said. “I had no idea they had the atom bomb — it was the day before they dropped it.”
Elmer also saw the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C., and was impressed by both the beautiful countryside in the area, and the number of people who greeted him at every stage of the trip.
“I have traveled the world, but I really loved the land in Washington,” he said. “And I don’t know where they found so many people — there were people everywhere we went, especially at Midway. The fire department was there with hoses, and everyone wanted (to shake my hand). I was shocked. There was a complete difference between when I left the service and yesterday.”
Elmer was drafted in 1943 and was stationed in the Philippines after the war ended. He came home in 1946.
Jerome Walters in Washington, D.C., with two women from his church, including his trip sponsor (Deb Slagh, middle), and his granddaughter, Emily Linebaugh (right).
92-year old Royal Park Place resident Jerome Walters couldn’t believe the first-class treatment he received on his Honor Flight trip, from Zeeland, Mich., to the capital and back.
“My favorite part of the day was how they treated us,” Jerome said. “There were volunteers who would help with everything, and you were never alone. We didn’t have to walk, because they had wheelchairs for us.” They didn’t have to stop for red lights, either — their bus had a police escort throughout the city — and they were ushered to the front of the lines at the memorials. “My favorite thing to see was the WWII Memorial,” he said. “Memorials are nice, and there’s a lot of meaning in them.”
Jerome was just 19 years old when he landed on Omaha Beach two days after the D-Day invasion. He spent the next three years with the 480th Anti-Aircraft Artillery unit in Europe.
“I have a lot of memories (from that time), but I don’t sit and talk about them much with other vets,” he said, noting that veteran stories are sometimes like fishing stories — they get a little bit bigger each year!
Jerome was accompanied on the trip by Deb Slagh, a Flock Shepherd Leader from his church, and was greeted in D.C. by his granddaughter Emily Linebaugh, who works in the Pentagon. But even strangers he met throughout the day greeted him warmly and thanked him for his service.
“All the people were so good — I’m a little more proud of (being a veteran) now,” he said. “People really appreciated it that we served.”