When Willard Bake, J. T. Nolen and Richard Thomas Mills step on a plane at the Little Rock airport today, for a journey to Washington D.C., they will be joining a bevy of military veterans for an historic flight to visit the famed World War II memorial.
Their war buddies who will be part of the contingent of veterans will hail from many locales. In fact, there will be two huge planes crammed with World War II vets happily awaiting the trip sponsored by the Honor Flight Network.
Blake, Nolen, and Mills, U.S. Army veterans, have been in a dither planning for the event, never feeling that it would be in their province to make such a trip to the memorial. There was little question that these Conway vets would not reject the opportunity regardless of the fact of physical disabilities of various kinds that intrude on their lifestyle.
"I understand that the Honor Flights were set up to honor our veterans," Blake said on the heels of a meeting of veterans in Little Rock recently to discuss the merits of the journey and the consequence of travel. Blake said it will be a one-day occasion and the visiting veterans will have the option of seeing as many of the sights as they can or wish. The flights are free to these veterans.
Says U. S. Senator Bob Dole, a principal in the flight network, says of the flights: "The Honor Flight Network was organized as a non-profit organization solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect on their memories.
"Priority is given to the senior veterans — the World War II survivors — along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill," Dole said. The flights were inaugurated in 2005.
Blake is a Purple Heart recipient. He was engaged in some of the most savage fighting in France when the Allied Forces stormed the beaches at Normandy. He also saw action in the historic Battle of the Bulge.
"I was 17 when I joined the Army in the Second Armored Division," he said recently, reflecting on his military history. He was virtually unscathed except for injuries that attended him by shrapnel in the fighting, he said. When he returned to the States in 1945, he found sustenance in farming.
Originators of the historic flights maintain that the flights are critical since more than 1,000 World War II Veterans are dying each day. The time to express the country’s thanks to these heroes — men and women — is therefore limited.
Honor Flight Network is determined and committed to the proposition of making the dream of visiting the Washington, D. C. memorial a reality for any World War II veteran and other veterans from any war who have a terminal injury.
Plans envision flights to the nation’s capital subsequently for all veterans of all U. S. wars.
Nolen, who agrees with the efficacy of the flights, saw service in the South Pacific and came through fairly unscathed, except for damage to his hearing that the noise of the tremendous bombardments caused.
Incidentally, Nolen was said to be the second man drafted for World War 11 service from Faulkner County.
It was back to the farm when he returned to civilian life, raising cattle, for the most part, on a spread in east Faulkner County.
Mills’ military experience was, curiously, divided between and U. S. Navy and the Air Force. He served with the Seebees in the Pacific Theater after joining the military from his hometown of Clarendon.
He was involved in several locations in the electric utility field and when he returned home after the war, he resumed his career in that pursuit.
Blake, Nolen and Mills, who have never met, will travel together to Little Rock and Washington Saturday. In Little Rock they will be joined by Conway vets Herbert Page, Billy Pate, Minton Neighbors and Richard Parkins.
Nancy Williams, an organizer for the flights, said the travelers will be met on their return Saturday night with much fanfare and celebration at the airport.
Sponsors of the flights are Tyson Foods, Walmart Stores, and the Electrical Cooperatives of Arkansas.