By Amanda Bland, Tulsa World staff writer
for the Oklahoma Press Association
WASHINGTON – Oklahoma’s 14th Honor Flight brought 80 World War II veterans to see “their memorial” on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
Howard Barnes of Ochelata had previously visited the nation’s capital but hadn’t seen the World War II Memorial dedicated in 2004.
He said he was looking forward to seeing all of the monuments as the group gathered inside the Tulsa International Airport for a 7 a.m. flight.
The WWII Memorial was the first stop on a whirlwind day of sightseeing in D.C. Volunteers greeted the men and women individually.
“Welcome to your memorial,” the volunteers exclaimed as the veterans entered the 43-foot Pacific Theater pavilion.
Bill Osteen sat with his son Vic, both of Tulsa, near one of two fountains overlooking the Rainbow Pool in the memorial’s center.
“They did a great job. I had no idea it was this big,” he said.
Solomon “Sol” Smith of Sand Springs, a former tuberculosis specialist with the Navy, also marveled at the monument’s size.
Bill Osteen smiled as he recalled his children eagerly climbing to the Washington Monument’s observation deck and scurrying into the lap of the Lincoln Memorial.
“Of course they won’t let you do that any more,” he said.
At the WWII Memorial, veterans and their “guardians,” a loved one or volunteer accompanying them, lined up for pictures in front of a granite pillar dedicated to Oklahoma. The pillars, 56 in total, represent each American state and territory at the time of the war and are arranged in the order of their entry into the union.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal to see something as important as this," Vic said at site.
Amy Seipp, a former Claremore resident who now lives in Virginia, and her sons Jack, 8, and Mark, 4, reunited with their grandfather, Army veteran Walter Marlin of Claremore, near the Oklahoma pillar.
Marlin and his great-grandsons exchanged hugs as Seipp wiped tears from her eyes.
“It’s kind of bittersweet that we get to do it again,” she said, referring to a visit to Washington D.C. she took as a teen with Marlin and his now-late wife.
Seipp, her family and Marlin toured the National Mall and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial with the Honor Flight group.
She said she hopes the trip will be a fond memory for her sons.
“A lot of kids don’t get to do that” with their great-grandparents, Seipp said.
The octa- and nonagenarians were bused, with police escorts, from the WWII Memorial to the west end of the National Mall, where they had the opportunity to visit the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans memorials.
The veterans later observed, in silence, the changing of the guard and a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery before a brief stop at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.
"Everything just clicked so good," Marlin said at the final site. "I was amazed the way things went off."
The tour preceded a raucous homecoming ceremony at the Tulsa International Airport complete with joyous spectators, banners, balloons and a band. The Patriot Guard Riders lined the terminal bearing American flags.
State Rep. Eric Proctor is on the organization’s board of directors and travels with the veterans.
"It's a thank-you they've never gotten,” Proctor said of the Honor Flight experience.
The group also organized a send-off ceremony the night before the servicemen and women left featuring Bixby High School's JROTC, Thunderbird Youth Academy and the Tulsa Marine Corps League.
Airport fire departments in Tulsa and Baltimore recognized the veterans with water cannon salutes over their chartered plane Wednesday morning. The Air Force band also welcomed them to Maryland.
Adam Green, an airman and member of the band, greeted Army pilot Herman "Sam" Aubrey of Tulsa, who’s Green’s grandfather-in-law, with a hug.
"Glad to see him," Aubrey said at the airport.
Oklahoma Honor Flights has flown 1,350 veterans to Washington since 2009. The veterans do not pay to participate but the cost for guardians is $500.
About a quarter of the guardians on the trip escort a veteran who does not have a friend or family member accompanying them.
WWII veterans were previously given priority on the trips but as the waiting list shortens, those who served in the Korean War will be invited, organizers said.
Wednesday's trip was the organization's third this year. A fourth departs from Oklahoma City on Oct. 8.
Oklahoma is one of 41 states that are affiliated with the Honor Flight Network, which launched its inaugural flight from Springfield, Ohio, in 2005.
For more information about Oklahoma Honor Flights, visit oklahomahonorflights.org.