An application was submitted by the East Valley Marines of Detachment 1296 to have member Ernie Karkula, World War II Marine, selected for the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. The Honor Flight provides our World War II veterans with an opportunity to visit the WWII Memorial, which was only finished in 2005. Since this was 60 years after the end of the war, many of those honored veterans are no longer here to see this recognition of their service to our country. Those that are still with us now 70 years later deserve an opportunity and so Detachment 1296 arranged for Ernie to be a part of this special event. Since Ernie did not have a family member able to make the trip, Detachment 1296 member Gordon Fiacco volunteered and his costs were paid by the Detachment.
Ernie enlisted in the Marines during World War II and after training was shipped to Guadalcanal just a few weeks following the invasion. There was still a lot of “clean out” as they went into caves and jungles after the enemy troops. Then he was moved on to take part in the first invasion of Guam, a fierce battle that took over the island. Next stop was Okinawa where the Marines attacked from the north. After they cleared out their section, he was dispatched to the south side to help the Army as they continued in their clean out efforts. In this location, Ernie was wounded.
In preparation for the Washington D.C. journey, Detachment member Don Taylor researched Ernie’s record of service and secured all of the ribbons and medals due to him. Don then also provided an honor guard shirt to wear with the medals on the trip.
Southwest Airlines provides all of these veterans with a free flight. Then the Hilton Hotels provide the rooms and meals. Each veteran must be accompanied by a guardian since mobility is limited for most of them. At each airport, the flight’s arrival was announced ahead of time. Waiting passengers were lined up every time to cheer and clap these brave men who did so much for our country. Ernie, in his beribboned shirt, especially got lots of attention as parents told their children some of the history and brought their young ones up for photos.
On the first day in the city, in addition to the major World War II Memorial, these veterans were bussed to the Navy Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Iwo Jima and Arlington Cemetery. Since the cemetery visit was toward the end of the day, they were present for the Changing of the Guard and the lowering of the flag. One more stop at the Air Force Memorial, then it was on to Fort Myer for dinner.
The next morning they boarded the bus again, this time to Fort McHenry in Baltimore and participated in a flag ceremony, helping to roll up a 15-star flag, approximately 50 feet by 30 feet. Then it was time to fly back home. Still the events continued on the plane. The Honor Flight staff initiated a mail call. While on board, each of the veterans received letters from family or friends. Arriving at the Phoenix airport the Honor Flight had posted a big banner thanking Detachment 1296 for the help.
The veterans and guardians may have been worn out, but the excitement of the trip continues as they share these new experiences and memories.