Area veterans recall honor flight journey

Published 6:00 pm Friday, October 21, 2011

When Wesson’s J.G. “Jay” Lewis returnedfrom his tour of duty in the Pacific at the conclusion of World WarII, it was in no flashy fashion. No celebratory welcome home. Noparade of appreciation.

    His wife, Bobbie, never thought he got the welcome home he deservedand, earlier this year, she signed him up to go on one of twoMississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flights.

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    “I heard about it going on in other states, and Mississippi had onein September,” she said. “So my grandson helped me out with thedetails and we got him (Jay) on it.”

    The honor flight program is a non-profit organization dedicated toflying veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War IImemorial, built to honor the service and sacrifices of veterans andtheir comrades.

    The chartered flight is a one-day trip to the nation’s capitalcompletely free of cost to the veterans.

    “It’ll just blow your mind,” said Jay Lewis, a 3rd ClassMachinist’s Mate in the Navy from 1944-45, of the experience. “Icouldn’t sleep the night before, I was so excited. I woke up at 3a.m. that morning to meet up with all the rest of the veterans, andwe took buses to the airport in Gulfport. We had three full busesand about 30 police cars escorting us to the airport.”

    Along with Jay on the flight were two other WWII veterans fromLincoln County who had equally positive reactions to theexperience.

    James R.E. Nettles, a rifleman in the Army during the war, said itmade him feel good to be appreciated for his services andsacrifices made.

    “Made you want to tear up a little bit, ya know,” he said of thetreatment he received during his experience. “We were well takencare of. It was really something to be appreciative of, and itmakes you feel good to know you’re thought of like that.”

    Lauvahn Murray, a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy during the war, hadthe same thoughts about the flight and the homecoming staged at theairport.

    “I was glad to be appreciated the way they did,” he said. “I didn’trealize that they cared so much about us WWII vets. I enjoyed it,and I appreciate people doing that for us.”

    At the airport, Jay met up with his “guardian” for the day, KirkDyer, an Iraq War veteran from Lucedale.

    “They had every detail planned out you could think of,” Jay said.”They had our food and drinks, medications if you needed it,wheelchairs if you needed it, and they had doctors on the plane,too. Every need on the trip was met.”

    Once in Washington, the crew of about 130 veterans and theirguardians visited the memorial, as well as the Korean War, VietnamWar and Lincoln memorials, the Iwo Jima Monument and ArlingtonNational Cemetery.

    Jay was most impressed by the WWII memorial and, in particular, anarea called the Freedom Wall.

    “There’s about 4,000 stars on the wall, each representing 100 menwho died in the war,” he said.

    He recalled visiting the Lincoln Memorial, where many of theveterans took the elevator to the top.

    “I walked up all those steps 10 years ago, so I decided I was goingto do it again,” the 86-year-old said. “I got to the last foursteps and started staggering, so a lady asked me if I needed helpand grabbed my arm.”

    As though seeing the memorials along with fellow servicemen was notimpressive enough, when the crew boarded the plane to fly back toMississippi, a “mail call” was staged.

    “They gave them stacks of letters and drawings addressed to eachone them from school children,” Bobbie said. “Just telling andshowing their appreciation.”

    “I was really impressed with that,” Jay said. “I’m glad teachersare still teaching about WWII and not letting that fade away.”

    Back in Gulfport, the welcome home Bobbie had always hoped for herhusband was duly given.

    “You talk about red carpet treatment,” she said. “They had childrenand their parents there, some active military members, a brass bandand media attention. It was a long overdue heroes’ welcome. Theremust’ve been 1,000 people there. All trying to shake theirhands.”

    “Oh, my hand was sore,” Jay said. “I thought I had become apolitician for a minute there. I was on cloud nine, and my wife hadto punch a needle to get me down.”

    Jay said he never dreamed of such a wonderful experience.

    “I thought it would never happen,” he said. “All vets should go upthere and do it if they can. I really enjoyed it.”