Major Jim Murphy of Los Osos retired from the United States Marine Corp after 20 years of service, including tours in Korea and Vietnam. He’d visited Veteran’s memorials in Washington, D.C. several times before, but last June his 3-day tour with 49 other Honor Flight Central Coast California Veterans and Guardians was different. In his never-hold-back style, he remarked to members of a sponsoring group, the Rotary Club of Morro Bay, “Any Veteran who doesn’t sign-up and go is a darn fool.”
Tony Weizneiwski of Cayucos served in Japan with the 97th Army Anti-Aircraft Artillery during World War II. He met his new friend “Murph” on the same June tour and agreed. “It was very emotional,” he said. “Everywhere we went there were people of all ages thanking us.”
Honor Flight board member Janice House explained, “Our heroes are transported to D.C. three times a year – two in the fall and one in the spring. We want to make sure every Veteran has the chance to visit their memorial. Top priority is given to the senior Veterans, World War II survivors, and other Veterans who may be suffering from a terminal illness.”
The first Honor Flight took place in May, 2005 with six small planes taking twelve World War II Veterans from Springfield, OH to Washington. The list quickly mushroomed to warrant expanding to commercial airlines. American Airlines stepped up as corporate sponsor and community partners donated to make the trips happen for more Veterans. The founding organization, Honor Flight Network, approved a Central Coast California regional hub to serve San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. The first flight took off May 13, 2014.
House added, “We’re scheduling Korean War and WWII Veterans now. But it is important for everyone to get on the list. Things happen with schedules — why a Veteran might not be able to attend so we’ll call someone else on the list to take their place.”
“My most vivid memories will be greetings everywhere we landed,” said Murphy. “There were cheers, flags, thank you signs, and sincere, interested questions by children and their teachers. Two monuments stood out for me this time – the Navy monument and Fort McHenry in Baltimore. My guardian — although I didn’t need one — was my red-headed daughter, Molly. Coming home I’ll treasure the coin Under-Sheriff Tim Olivas gave each of us when we landed at the San Luis Obispo Airport about 10:30 p.m.“
Weizneiwski’s guardian was his brother. “I was most impressed with the Korean Wall that had fresh flowers on display every day. They were brought by Korean-Americans living in the DC area.” It is notable that his younger brother by 15 years served in Korea and Weizneiwski still brings his wife flowers from his garden daily.
Honor Flight requires a guardian accompany the Veteran and they don’t have to be family. House explained, “They need to sign-up, time flexibility helps, be in good health — and strong enough to push the Veteran in a wheelchair. We do a lot of walking. The guardians pay their own way of $1,500. The Veterans are fully funded.”
Morro Bay Rotarian Jack Keely encouraged others to also become guardians. His fondest memory was meeting with a school group. “The teacher introduced us by saying to her class ‘Meet the people who saved the world.’”
The group always stays together as a unit. There is a meet-up lunch before the tour and after realizing the bonding that is created during the trip, a post-reunion was added to the festivities hosted by Tolo Winery of Paso Robles. Both Murphy and Weizneiwski were particularly stunned by the water-bridge created by the fire department as the plane went airborne.
Murphy said, “First we went to Arlington to pay respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After his duty, the soldier came over and told us about his responsibilities.” Fort McHenry was also memorable. “They played our National Anthem inspired there by Francis Scott Key (Battle of Baltimore, War of 1812). As it played a curtain opened to view Fort McHenry across the bay.”
The Veteran duo agreed their time together allowed them a chance to reminisce the past while building new friendships with similar life experiences. Why it was asked does it seem PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) happens to younger Veterans.
Murphy answered, “I have taught servicemen all the ‘dirty tricks’ of war and I’ve been told by younger men what I taught them saved their lives. I was never spit upon when I returned home. I was offered the chance to transition back into regular society.”
On a lighter note, he directed the conversation back to the benefits of Honor Flight. “You’re crazy not to go. You always get prime parking! People of all ages offer you a thank you for your service and all I had to buy was the drinks I ordered from a bar.”