World War II veteran Grady Jones of Greenville had no prior knowledge of the Honor Flight Network, an organization which offers war veterans an all-expenses-paid trip to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
But in November last year, when he received a call from his grandson asking if he wanted to fill out an application to get on board one of the flights to the memorial, he gladly accepted the offer.
“When he called me, he knew I would want to go as soon as he asked,” Jones said.
Jones mailed in his application papers to the network, and a little after Christmas, he received a call from one of the nurses who would be taking the trip with the veterans, telling him the good news: he had been put on the list, and his flight to would be leaving on May 2.
“It means the world to me,” Jones said. “They call it an honor flight and that’s what it is. It’s an honor to get to go.”
Jones, along with his friend and fellow veteran V.R. Webb, will be the only veteran from Greenville going on the trip, joining a group of veterans from Sulphur Springs and other surrounding communities, as well as a group from Witchita Falls.
After a small ceremony in the Staples parking lot near the Crossroads Mall in Greenville, the veterans, along with several nurses and bodyguards, traveled to Dallas and spent the night there before boarding an 8:45 a.m. flight to Washington, D.C. on Friday morning.
Jones, who turns 89 in September, said that while he had received an itinerary of everything they plan to explore during the tour, he was sure that the two-day trip would move at a fast pace.
“For an old man, it’s going to be hard to see everything in just two days,” Jones said. “So when we hit the ground, we’ll do it running, I think.”
Jones said that he most looks forward to seeing the memorial’s Freedom Wall.
The Freedom Wall, located on the west side of the memorial, is decorated with 4,084 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. It also offers a view of the reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial, with a message reading “Here we mark the price of freedom” placed in front of the wall.
For Jones, one of those gold stars represents his cousin, Ira Jones, who also served in WWII. Ira had enlisted a year ahead of Grady in 1942, and was killed during the invasion of Normandy.
Jones said that he doesn’t care much for flying, but said it was the only way he would ever get to see the memorial.
“I always said that if the good Lord had wanted me to fly he’d have given me wings,” Jones said.
Jones served in World War II as an aidman, responsible for applying initial emergency medical treatment to soldiers wounded in the field of battle. He spent most of his two and a half years of service in the Pacific.
He said that he didn’t recognize any of the names on the list of the group that will be traveling on the flight except for Webb, who he hasn’t seen since their duties in the war took them in separate directions.
While he may not know many of the veterans in the honor flight group, Jones said that he looks forward to spending time with them during the tour.
“It’s a real honor to get to go, and I’m proud to be a part of the group,” Jones said.
The Honor Flight Network is a program which works to fly veterans of WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and more current wars to Washington, D.C. to see their memorials. The flights are completely free for the veterans.
First conceived by Physician Assistant and Retired Air Force Captain Earl Morse, the network made its first honor flight tour in May 2005, when six small planes flew 12 WWII veterans out to the national memorial from Springfield, Ohio.
For more information regarding the Honor Flight Network, visit its website at honorflight.org.