MOUNT VERNON — The chance of a lifetime came for many local veterans on Sept. 18 when they were treated to an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial and other landmarks at the nation’s capital. Through fundraising organized by the Knox County 912 Project, more than $16,000 was raised for the Honor Flight Network trip in which 22 Knox County veterans participated.
One local veteran attending the Honor Flight was Chuck Dice, who was one of two of the youngest in his group at age 82. Dice graduated from high school in 1945, served in the Navy, and later the Army, before receiving an honorable discharge due to hearing difficulties.
After discussing the trip many times with his friend Willie Pritchett, “Willie was entirely responsible for me going,” said Dice. “He was persistent, and kept calling and calling, telling me I really should go on this trip; but I had some reservations.” Reluctant to go unless his son-in-law, Joe Christopher, went along as his guardian, Dice convinced Pritchett that Christopher, at age 62, was physically fit enough to attend the trip as his guardian.
“We left for the airport at 3 a.m.,” said Dice. “Joe was to be there at 5 a.m. for an outline of his duties on the day.”
As the plane landed in Baltimore before a bus took them to D.C., Dice was impressed with the greeting at the airport. “There was a long line of military people saluting and thanking us all,” said Dice. “It was overwhelming to me.”
As the group arrived in Washington, the World War II Memorial was their first stop of the day. “It was an unbelievably beautiful place,” said Dice, describing the grounds with two huge tower pavilions representing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and 50 large columns representing each state in the union, all surrounding a beautiful fountain pool. “We were there between 45 and 60 minutes, but I could have spent all day there,” said Dice.
Another stop was at the Iwo Jima Memorial, “which was much larger than I thought it was,” said Dice. The group next ventured to Arlington National Cemetery, which was a “very solemn, very stirring place to be,” according to Dice. Watching the traditional changing of the guard, Dice was impressed how everything was on a 21-second cycle — from the steps the guard takes to the time he pauses between paces.
With not enough time to stop at the Korean Memorial, his group then visited the Navy Museum, which was of particular interest to Dice since he served in the Navy.
As the buses were departing the museum, the parking lot cleared out except for one Navy admiral, who stood at attention until the last bus was clearly gone. “For a current Navy admiral to salute us was just amazing. I did salute him back,” said Dice.
Another Mount Vernon veteran taking part in the day’s trip was Bob Beach, who enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1940, later serving in the Army in the China, Burma and India theaters. Beach has a friend from Wapakoneta who took in a previous Honor Flight trip and convinced him to take advantage of this opportunity. Beach was assigned a guardian for the day, named Beverly, who told him “I’m here to keep track of you kids today.”
Since him time in the service, Beach has been a speaker at numerous events with current U.S. Air Force Troops, showing them the movie “Merrill’s Marauders” and speaking to them about his combat action against Japan in the 5307th Army Unit under Maj. Gen. Frank Drew Merrill. He was recently presented a plaque filled with medals from the numerous troops he has addressed in the Air Force.
Sharing his experiences about the Honor Flight trip, Beach said “Every minute they were showing and telling us something.” With many stops featured on the day, time was limited as well. “They would keep us in line and often tell us ‘keep moving’ until it was time to move on again.”
Beach’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery was very special to him. Having been there 16 years ago with nothing more than a drive-through look, Beach for the first time witnessed the changing of the guard and was able to take a tour through the grounds.
Beach said that while on the bus heading back to Baltimore, they were told it was time for “Mail Call.” He sat at his dining room table smiling while sorting through a stack of cards given to him on the bus written by local elementary students. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said, stating he received 28 cards written to him, thanking him for his bravery and service.
Dice also referred to receiving numerous cards from the students. “This was something they were told to do, but [cards] were written from their hearts,” said Dice.
The veterans received another grand welcome back at the airport in Baltimore, but another yet bigger surprise was awaiting at the airport in Columbus. Long before the Honor Flight group arrived at Columbus International Airport, the baggage claim area was transformed into a huge “Welcome Back” reception area filled with family members, friends, JROTC members and other veterans, ready to welcome back their heroes with cheers, applause and of course, hugs and kisses.
“This absolutely blew our minds,” said Beach, upon seeing the enthusiastic crowd awaiting for the vets’ arrival. “We had no intentions of seeing all of this. Beach had called his son, Tom, about one hour before arriving at the airport; “We’re already here, and this place is full,” was Tom’s response. “It was just out of this world,” added Beach.
Dice shared similar reaction to the crowd’s greeting at the airport. “It was one of the most touching events for me,” said Dice. “I knew some family members might be there, but I never expected that kind of crowd there.”
In looking back on his day spent on the Honor Flight, Dice said “There are three significant days in my life I can remember — my wedding, my daughter’s birth and the Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C.”
“I simply can’t thank the people of Knox County enough for making this trip possible,” said Beach.