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Veterans honored with flight to DC


Honor Flight of the Ozarks left the Springfield, Missouri airport at 5:30 a.m. on May 17. The ROTC of Willard, Missouri waved flags and offered well wishes to the group as they proceeded to the plane. The fire department provided a red water arch over the jet as it taxied down the tarmac.

That was just the beginning of a full day of honoring veterans with ages in their 40s who served in the Gulf War to veterans in their 90s from World War II.

Two Boone County veterans were on that flight that totaled 81 veterans, 81 guardians, and 24 medical personnel. The chartered jet landed at Ronald Reagan Airport in a one hour and 40 minute flight.

Army Specialist E-4 Jim Thune, Alpena, and Army Specialist E-5 Wayne Cone were on Sun Country Air Charter Flight No. 8651 to Washington, DC.

Four red, white and blue coaches greeted them at the airport, complete with lifts to aid the veterans who couldn’t navigate stairs. Police officers riding on Harley Davidson motorcycles guided them through the interstates and streets to the War Memorial areas of DC. Traffic at all intersections came to a complete standstill and strangers waved and honored them all along the path.

Cone said, “I spoke to one of the police officers who guided our coaches and he said, ‘We choose to do this for the Honor Flight veterans — and the city willingly pays us overtime.’”

Cone said he had to laugh to himself about what would have happened if he had tried that when he was chief of police in Harrison.

“All day, people were constantly thanking us for our service,” Cone said. “I never heard one negative comment.”

During the approval process for the trip, veterans had to submit medical records. The medical team was very familiar with each veteran’s health assessment. “I just knew they wouldn’t let me go,” Cone said. “The doctor that kept an eye on me, told me he chose our coach because he wanted to be there for me in case I needed him.”

Each veteran was required to travel with a guardian under the age of 71 and could not be the veteran’s spouse. Guardians had to pay $500 to go and were told up front, ‘Your veteran may be your parent or another relation, but if we hear you bossing them around, you will be in big trouble from us. This is all about our veterans. Not about you.’”

The trip was completely free for all the veterans. “At every stop they made us drink water and Gatorade and we didn’t have any medical issues from anyone all day,” Cone said. “It was easy to get through TSA security, too. We had our driver’s license in the lanyard they provided and when security looked at that, they let us through. We were given hats and bags of snacks as we boarded the plane. Arbys even provided a box lunch for us at the FDR Memorial.”

The Vietnam Wall was very emotional for him. “I had a lot of friends killed there, and I just don’t like to relive those memories. It’s called a Wall of Healing. But to me it is 58,000 brothers and sisters who died.”

He did enjoy seeing the new Vietnam Women’s Memorial before they returned back to the Lincoln Memorial area. “It was all great.”

The group saw the Marine Display and the new Air Force Memorial.

Cone served in the Army Aviation. “We were the real flyers,” he laughed. “It’s a long-standing joke in the military that someone has to make the Air Force look good. Vietnam was the last time Army Aviation was used.”

Back in the 70s, when leadership saw his test scores, they wanted to train him to be a pilot. Cone didn’t agree with that and they trained him to be a traffic controller. He did get trained to fly a few helicopters and enjoyed that.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery and the Changing of the Guards was a very meaningful ceremony for both men to observe. Cone said, “I counted the steps the soldier took, and they were always exactly 21 steps and they stopped and started precisely in the same place — every time. You could see the indentations left in the marble walkway by every footprint the soldiers make as they place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

There were several 2023 Senior Class groups of graduates touring the city at the same time and Cone said students from one school wanted to shake the hand of each veteran before they left.

The bus drove around the Pentagon area and Cone said the new bricks were still obvious from the attack on 9/11. “I was surprised at the size. They told us 50,000 people could stand inside that structure,” Cone said.

The Iwo Jima Monument was the last stop before returning to the airport. “It was 5:30 p.m. and Washington, DC traffic is normally terrible. But once again, police officers stopped all traffic on the interstates and streets and at all intersections so our buses could get back to the Reagan Airport for a 6:30 p.m. EST departure. People were waving and honoring us along the whole route. It was very special.”

While the plane departed DC, the veterans were surprised once more. When asked what their favorite memory from their place of service was, the group responded, “Mail Call.” And each veteran was presented with a huge envelope full of mail and thank yous from friends and family back home.

They landed back in Springfield around 9 p.m. and by 9:30 the 81 veterans were greeted by hundreds of grateful citizens and family members with signs, flags and music from a band of volunteers inside the airport.

“They met all of our needs, all day and anticipated when our guardian needed help with our needs,” Cone said. “At the beginning of the day I was the only one who needed the lift at the back of the bus. But by the second stop another veteran used it with his wheelchair. A few stops later 13 chairs were in use and by the end of day, 30-35 wheelchairs were being used.”

Cone said everyone in the group was wearing T-shirts to match their designation — from bus drivers to medical staff. “It was easy to see who the veterans, guardians and medical personnel were,” he said.

Cone admitted returning to the states as a Vietnam vet was very disturbing. Along with the screaming, spitting, cursing, items thrown and general disrespect was the lack of business people willing to hire a vet.

“I was very worried if I’d be able to get a job — even in Harrison,” he said. “I went down to Montgomery Wards and the manager, H.C. Morrison hired me. He knew I was a veteran and told me he’d find a place for me.”

Cone started in the receiving department in 1973 and when the corporation was going to close the store in 1980, Cone had been promoted to manager. “Only two people were offered transfer positions with Wards. I decided I didn’t want to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico. So that’s when I got back into law enforcement.”

The Honor Flight vision began with getting veterans to see their WorldWar II Monuments. Then it expanded to include Korean and Vietnam veterans. The program has currently expanded to include those who served in more recent wars. A spokesman said, “They too, have given so much, and it’s time we show them that their efforts are not forgotten. Our veteran heroes aren’t asking for recognition. It is our position that they deserve it. Our program is just a small token of our appreciation for those who gave so much,” a spokesperson said.


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