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It was one of the most emotionally rewarding days of their lives.
That’s what World War II and Korean War veterans said about their Oct. 6 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., which was sponsored by Owen Electric Cooperative and Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.
Owen Electric and 15 other Kentucky electric cooperatives joined with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Honor Flight Network to take 25 veterans, free of charge, to visit the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Iwo Jima Monument. Twenty-four of the men were veterans of World War II; four fought in both World War II and the Korean War, and one veteran served in the Korean War.
Owen Electric sponsored a local veteran on the trip. George ‘Bud’ Dunavent from Owenton, who served in the Army during World War II, represented the co-op.
As the veterans arrived at the Louisville International Airport at 6 a.m. Oct. 6, they were greeted by the warm smiles of electric co-op volunteers and other grateful citizens.
Immediately upon their arrival at Baltimore International Airport, the veterans received a heroes’ welcome from a crowd of well-wishers, including cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy.
The veterans traveled from Baltimore to Washington aboard a chartered bus, while a police escort cleared the way through heavy traffic and took them to the World War II Memorial. There they met former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, and his wife, Elizabeth.
George Garrison, 93, of Lincoln County, said meeting the Doles was the highlight of his day.
“I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun and enjoyed a trip so much,” said Garrison, who served in the Army and was awarded a Bronze Star for helping to rescue another Kentucky soldier in the Battle of Zig Zag Pass.
As the day progressed, their stories poured out.
James Peters, 87, a native of Springfield, served on the USS Hornet in the South Pacific. He recalled when a wave of Japanese bombers severely damaged the Hornet.
“The ones who were saved were on the flight deck,” Peters said. “When the skipper said to jump overboard, we did, and the next thing we knew we were in the water.”
Peters and other survivors only had small inflatable safety belts around their waists to keep them afloat. He and his fellow sailors floated without food or water for 72 hours. “We finally got picked up by sea planes,” he said.
Two Kentucky veterans had a special connection to the Iwo Jima Monument.
John Robbins, 87, of Lexington, served aboard a Navy landing craft during the battle. He said hundreds of American ships in the harbor sounded their horns when they saw the Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
“Everyone cheered,” he said. “It was like the Fourth of July.”
The Iwo Jima monument was sculpted from the iconic photo taken during the battle by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. Rosenthal came aboard Robbins’ landing craft prior to taking the photo.
Charles Jackson Jr., 88, from Maysville also has a personal tie to the Iwo Jima Monument. He attended Fleming County High with Franklin Sousley, one of the Marines who raised the flag and is immortalized by the monument.
“We sat together in Ag Class,” Jackson said. “He was a scrappy guy, and I knew then he would be in the thick of it.”
Hundreds of family, co-op employees and patriotic Americans waved flags and greeted the veterans after they landed in Louisville.
We all owe these veterans a profound debt. Owen Electric is honored to have had the opportunity to say, in one small way, “thank you.”
“As Will Rogers once said, ‘We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by,’” said Whitney Duvall, Owen Electric spokesperson. “That’s what we’re doing to honor these veterans.”