Three World War II veterans from Monett, Gene Spivy, K.C. Caldwell and Evert Fritz, had a memorable experience last week as participants in an Ozarks Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. Their one-day trip to the nation's capital was packed with stops at national monuments and good company.
The three flew out of the Springfield airport at 6:30 a.m. and returned shortly after 10 p.m. Ozarks Honor Flight is sponsored by KY3 television, FlyOzarks.com, Coca-Cola-Dr. Pepper Bottling Company of the Ozarks and the Pitt Family Foundation.
"It was an honor to get to go," Spivy said. "I'd been reading about it. I sent my application in and never heard anything. One night they called and I said, 'I'm ready.'"
"It was the most amazing thing," said Caldwell. "I have to pinch myself to know it really happened."
Each of the veterans traveled with an official guardian. Spivy traveled with his son, Steve. Caldwell traveled with his daughter, Lynne Smith, who lives in Tulsa, Okla., a classmate of Spivy's son. Fritz went with Joe Stapp, his stepdaughter's husband, who lives in rural Purdy.
Two other Monettans traveled as guardians. Sheila Jackson accompanied her father. Tom VanDerhoef, who had gone on an earlier Honor Flight with his father, was assigned to a veteran who did not have family to go with him.
Visiting the veterans memorials was the high point for the Monettans. All of them were especially impressed with the World War II Memorial.
"They have numerous bronze stars on one wall," Fritz said, "one for every 4,000 dead. It's so impressive. You stand there and look at that, it kind of overwhelms you. You can't imagine the lives lost."
Spivy called the World War II Memorial "tremendous."
Caldwell said, "I wasn't disappointed. It was great."
Fritz used the computer data base at the World War II Memorial to pull up information on his wife's brother, who had been killed when his ship was sunk near England.
The vets also visited the Iwo Jima, Korean and Vietnam Memorials. Spivy found the Iwo Jima Memorial especially realistic.
"It makes you look like you're there with them," Spivy said.
The trip also stopped at the various monuments to divisions of the Armed Forces. Each has its own style. Fritz was struck by the distinctive raised spires in the Air Force memorial as being different from other monuments.
Watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was also cited by the Monettans as an expecially memorable moment.
"I sure enjoyed being there with fellows of my own age," Spivy said.
"I met people I didn't know," Fritz said. "We wanted to talk when we got together. It was good."
Organizers planned both a formal sendoff and a big return celebration for the veterans. Walking back into the Springfield airport, the veterans were greeted by what looked to Caldwell like "everybody in Springfield," including a band playing. The group of several hundred waved signs and cheered, bringing smiles to all the honorees.
"I was really impressed with how they had everything coordinated," Fritz said. "They kept it moving right along. When we got to Washington, everything went smoothly. We went right out of the airplane into buses. They've got that so coordinated you wouldn't believe it."
"The whole trip was just great," Spivy said. "I'd do it again in a minute."
Each of the veterans received a packet of letters from school students, thanking them for their service. Spivy spent time writing back to all those who wrote to him after returning.
As a memento of the trip, the veterans each received a white T-shirt, identifying them as World War II veterans participating in an Ozarks Honor Flight. The shirts were worn on the trip. Their accompanying guardians wore blue T-shirts with the Ozarks Honor Flight logo.