Area veterans recall honor flight journey

Published 6:00 pm Friday, October 21, 2011

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

    His wife, Bobbie, never thought he got the welcome home he deserved and, 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 one in September,” she said. “So my grandson helped me out with the details and we got him (Jay) on it.”

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

    The chartered flight is a one-day trip to the nation’s capital completely 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. “I couldn’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, and we took buses to the airport in Gulfport. We had three full buses and 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 the experience.

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

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

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

    “I was glad to be appreciated the way they did,” he said. “I didn’t realize 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 their guardians 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, an area called the Freedom Wall.

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

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

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

    As though seeing the memorials along with fellow servicemen was not impressive 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 each one them from school children,” Bobbie said. “Just telling and showing their appreciation.”

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

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

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

    “Oh, my hand was sore,” Jay said. “I thought I had become a politician for a minute there. I was on cloud nine, and my wife had to 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 up there and do it if they can. I really enjoyed it.”