In the rush of events that tumble out across the community between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, it’s easy to miss a few good ones, but if the circumstances are right, the subjects are evergreen.
Such is the case with a recent community meeting event showing of a terrific film, “Honor Flight: One Last Mission.”
Most of the seats were filled at the big community room for Antelope Valley Hospital in the City of Hope complex. The people who showed up were veterans of all branches and eras of the armed services — and their loved ones.
“Honor Flight: One Last Mission,” which can be found on Amazon Prime, is a film about World War II veterans, the ones of “The Greatest Generation” making that last glory pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.
This film was made seven years ago, when there were a good many more World War II veterans living their lives among us. Currently, it is estimated that there are fewer than 400,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during World War II. We lose thousands of them to the calendar on a weekly basis.
In our Antelope Valley, we continue to treasure the presence of Palmer Andrews, recently turned 94, who served with the legendary Marine leader “Chesty Puller,” during the New Britain campaign in the Pacific. Andrews went on to serve with Puller on the fights for islands that have become part of the epic history of World War II, Peileilu, and the final, savage battle of World War II, the taking of Okinawa.
Many of those fights were recounted in an iconic HBO miniseries, “The Pacific,” that was a companion piece to the other Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks history extravaganza, “Band of Brothers.”
In that right, three of the veterans lost to us recently, but part of the weave of our own local history, were Henry Ochsner and John Humphrey, both veterans who lived to their mid-’90s. They were the stuff that the “Band of Brothers” was made of during the greatest calamity in history,
World War II.
Ochsner was with the 101st Airborne Division and Humphrey was with the 82nd Airborne Division, both veterans from D-Day until the final victory in Europe in May 1945. Also recently, we lost “Babe” Gaudi, a Marine Corps machine gunner who lost most of his squadmates fighting at Iwo Jima. It needs to be said that had the Americans and their allies lost that war, we would be living in a new Dark Age. The stakes were high.
And that has been the purpose of “Honor Flights,” a nonprofit that took off as an initially modest endeavor to get some veterans to Washington D.C., to see the World War II Memorial before time ran out for them. In the years since, it has become a national movement to honor aging veterans before they are gone forever.
This moving story, “Final Mission,” has been presented twice, locally, first by ProCare Hospice a couple years ago and this year, by Optimal Hospice. When the lights went up, there was not a dry eye in the house, including Palmer Andrews, who attended with his grandson, Allen Quinton and his Marine Corps brother from another mother, Tony Tortolano, born 40 years later.
Veterans eligible to go on Honor Flight are ranked in this order — World War II veterans able to travel, assisted by a
Next, come Korean War veterans, with the same requirement. Veterans of the Korean War are now in their ’80s or older. If the Korean War sometimes gets conflated with the later Vietnam War, it bears remembering that the Korean War troops were only five years younger than their World War II comrades. In more recent times, Vietnam War veterans have become eligible for Honor Flights. The flights are an all-expenses paid ride to Washington D.C., so veterans can tour the monuments of the wars in which they served. Along the way, volunteers treat them like the VIPs they never believed they were, until they were so informed.
One of those Korean War veterans is Fred Barthe, who served as air crew on an aircraft carrier-based enormous propeller-driven plane “that flew like a pregnant guppy at about
Barthe, who served in the Navy and went on to become an officer in the Coast Guard Reserve, is one of those terminally modest warriors who thinks everyone else did the fighting.
“I was the radar operator on a ‘Hunter-Killer’ (aircraft team), looking for low-flying aircraft, set up to fly in the dark,” he said.
Honestly Fred, if you survived carrier landings off the coast of Korea, you served plenty. Almost 40,000 Americans were killed during the Korean War that lasted from 1950-1953, with South Korea prosperous and democratic, and North Korea, a malnourished, totalitarian
Someone thought Fred Barthe did his part. He was able to take an Honor Flight and has been enthusing about it ever since. The veterans get VIP escorted bus tours of the World War II Memorial, the Korean War and Vietnam Memorials, Arlington National
Cemetery and more.
“At the Korean War Memorial, I cried,” Barthe said. “I couldn’t help it. And Arlington is spotless and squared away, like
Like many of our friends who survived their wars, Barthe and Andrews went on to build families, successful careers and add to the bounty of America. Anyone interested in volunteering, sponsoring or nominating someone for an Honor Flight can get information at Honor Flight Kern County, www.honorflightkerncounty.org, locally, or www.honorflight.org, or catch up with Fred Barthe at Coffee4Vets at Crazy Otto’s on Avenue I, 7-9 a.m., on Tuesday mornings.
Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group who served in the Army as a paratrooper during the Cold War and deployed to Iraq with a local National Guard unit for the Antelope Valley Press. He works on veterans and community mental