GENTRY Ray Adams, of Gentry, was one of 91World War II veterans on board the first Honor Flight to leave the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Oct. 17.
The Honor Flight program, which began in 2005, flies veterans from their home town to Washington D.C. for a one-day tour, focusing on the National World War II Memorial. Last year more than 11,000 veterans nationwide benefited from the honor flight program.
Adams first heard the program was coming to northwest Arkansas through a newspaper ad and applied to be a part of the Honor Flight.
It took a little less than two hours to fly from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport to Washington D.C. Adams said.The group spent the whole day - from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.- in Washington.
A total of about 135 people were on the flight, including volunteer escorts called guardians. The flight was free to veterans, but the cost to guardians was $400, Adams said.
In Washington, the veterans were greeted with a reception and honored with a police escort out to the memorial and back, Adams said.
The veterans got to see the National Cemetery,the White House, the Pentagon, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Marine Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Women’s Memorial, but the main focus of the tour was the World War IIMemorial.
“The whole tour was impressive, but I think the World War II memorialwas the most impressive,” Adams said.
Adams joined the Navy when he was 17. He tried to join a year earlier, but when his father found out, “he put a stop to it,” Adams said.
Adams went to San Diego, Calif., for boot camp and then headed to Okinawa, Japan, for 17 months. Adams arrived in Okinawa, after the battle, for occupation duty, he said.
At first he worked as a Spanish interpreter for the work party in the laundry, and then drove a truck hauling ammunition, before being transferred to a Naval air base fire department.
At the age of 18, Adams became fire chief at the department with about 19 or 20 men under him. The department focused on rescuing men out of downed aircraft. They wore asbestos suits with bottles of oxygen on their belts, Adams said.
Adams explained why he was so eager to join the military when he was a young man.
“Back in World War II there was an urge to join the service ... to be patriotic. I guess you felt that you should be in the service regardless of your age,” he said.
Adams left the Navy only three days after he turned 19. He remained in the reserves for eight years in Texas and also worked on a volunteer fire department in Texas for eight or nine years, he said.
The Honor Flight program is paid for entirely by donations, and Tyson Foods and the Wal-Mart Foundation each paid for $25,000 of the $65,000 expenses for the Oct. 17 flight.
“Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with over one thousand World War II veterans dying each day, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out,” states the program’s Web site, www.honorflight.com.
For The Record, Pages 4 on 11/25/2009
Print Headline: Adams takes Honor Flight to Memorial