Trip of a Lifetime

  • John Taylor:Bab Laird

    WILLCOX -- Two local men were part of an Honor Flight last month for veterans living in southern Arizona.

    Bob Laird and John Taylor, both of Willcox, joined a group of about 25 veterans who spent three days in Washington, DC, visiting its various monuments and memorials; and  particularly their own – the Korean War Memorial.

    That’s what Honor Flight Southern Arizona does – provides area veterans of World War II and the Korean War  the opportunity to see their national memorials in Washington, DC.

    “These are the men and women who availed themselves in a national effort to keep America safe during World War II (1941 – 1946) and the Korean War (1950-1955),” proclaims their website, www.honorflightsaz.org.

    “It is now our responsibility to keep them from being forgotten, and to thank them for a job they did so long ago.”

    The Honor Flight trip includes airfare, transportation, meals, and lodging, as well as a “guardian” to watch over the veterans.

    “It was an honor – and kind of a blessing – for me to go,” said Stephanie “Sam” Mooney of Willcox, who was Laird’s guardian during the trip.

    “Just seeing their reactions and seeing the world through their eyes, and how much everything meant to them.”

    Both Laird and Taylor talked about the ceremony held prior to their takeoff from the Tucson Airport.

    “That was really something to remember -  them sending us off – all those people waving flags,” Laird told the Range News.

    Taylor called the sung rendition of the national anthem they heard “the best I’ve heard in a long time.”

    “That was one of the three times on the trip that my eyes got watery,” Laird said.

    Asked about the other two, Laird replied, “At the Korean War Memorial, I was thinking about the guys who didn’t get to see their memorial.”

    After that, it was “when I got back to Tucson and saw Jean (his wife) with tears in her eyes,” he told the Range News.

    Laird, who is 86, was in the First Marine Division serving in Korea.

    “After securing Seoul, we were going to invade North Korea,” he said. “We stormed the shore, only to find that the Army had already pushed up from the south. They told us that Bob Hope had already been there.”

    While there were some “gung ho” Marines who were disappointed, Laird said that as far as he was concerned it was “the easy way” to do an invasion.

    “It wasn’t easy after that,” he told the Range News. “We went north and it was pretty cold and pretty hairy with the Chinese.”

    As for 82-year-old Taylor, he went from Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz., to Narsarssuak Air Base, on the southern tip of Greenland.

    From the sounds of it, being stationed there was no picnic, either.

    While the cold was not so much a problem, “the wind was very terrible,” Taylor said, adding,” There were days we were ordered to stay in the barracks so we wouldn’t end up in the water.”

    During last month’s Honor Flight, Laird and Taylor, as well as the other veterans, were honored wherever they landed, such as in Dallas-Fort Worth.

    “We were honored there by people and bands and flags,” said Laird, adding that in Baltimore “we were greeted there, too.”

    From Baltimore, the veterans were taken to Washington, DC the next day.

    Their first stop was the World War II Memorial, which Taylor described as “huge – a half a football field long.”

    “It was very moving,” Taylor said.

    Next was a trip to the Iwo Jima Memorial, which “gets to you real easy,” he told the Range News.

    Laird added, “Everything is so overwhelming.  It’s the trip of a lifetime, really.”

    After that was a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, where they watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

    “They were very snappy, doing everything right,” Taylor said.

    While they didn’t do their about faces, etc., the way they did during the Korean War, Laird said, “It was different, but it looked good.”

    Both veterans agreed that the visit to Arlington was one of the most moving aspects of the trip.

    “It’s incredible how many are buried there,” said Laird. “You just see sections of it on TV. You don’t think of it as covering half the county like it does.”

    Taylor said, “There is just one grave after another. I lost it, then I regained my composure.  So many dead.”

    “I couldn’t believe how many of our comrades are buried there, and the number is getting bigger every day,” he told the Range News.

    Laird said that the Iwo Jima and Korean War Memorials were a couple of the most moving places to him.

    “I ran into a guy who was in the Army in the same campaign as I was,” he told the Range News.

    “That would be a highlight, I guess. Most of the guys I talked to were in Korea after I was.

    Taylor said, “Besides Arlington, the Lincoln Memorial was one of the most moving things to me because of the man he was and what he did.”

    The veterans also visited Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, where Mooney bought them each an American flag made out of cotton.

    “We raised them on the flagpole at Fort McHenry,” some 86 feet in the air, then brought them down and folded them, Taylor said.

    “So each of our flags has been flown at Fort McHenry.”

    As to the guardians, Laird said, “I’ve haven’t been pampered like that since my mother did when I was a little kid.”

    Another highlight of the trip was “mail call,” named after the ritual where military overseas received letters from home.

    On their way home, the Honor Flight veterans too experienced their own “mail call,”  receiving cards and letters from friends and family, and even complete strangers.

    “When we got to Dallas, we had mail call, where we got all this mail from different people. I think Bob and I got more mail than anyone else,” said Taylor, explaining that they got “close to 200 letters,” including some from students in Willcox and elsewhere.

    “I am answering a young boy in South Tucson who asked me about being in the war,” Laird said.

    Talking about the artwork given them by some of the children, he said, “They made us feel like Audi Murphy.”

    “Honor Flight was outstanding. To me, they did everything right,”  Laird said.

    “We were honored everywhere we went. Any veteran would be proud to go on it.”

    For more information on Honor Flight, the national group’s website is www.honorflight.org.

    Carol Broeder carol.broeder@willcoxrangenews.com