Veterans of the World War II era and one of their guardians pose for a group photo after returning from an Honor Flight. From left, guardian Brian Black, Sam Schneidmiller, Mel Haas, Ken Nicoles, Art Shinbo, Jack McCaw, Fred Gritman, Bob Budig and Lowell Richter.
Photo by Andy Porter.
Nine area veterans of World War II were among the latest military folks to take advantage of a trip to Washington , D.C., to visit the war monuments and hang out together.
Granted, it was an over-and-back affair. They took off from Spokane early on Sept. 24, landed in the nation’s capital city and stayed overnight. The next day, they toured various sites and returned to Spokane, said one of the honorees, Mel Haas of Walla Walla. The 86-year-old served from 1945-46 in the U.S. Navy aboard mine sweeper the USS Obstructor in the South China Sea.
Inland Northwest Honor Flight out of Spokane fully funds these trips for veterans, Mel said. He heard about it from a Whitman College coach, Bob Johnson, and read about Theron “Smitty” Smith’s experience in the U-B.
So he tracked down more information online and sent in an application to go. “It had been over a year ago and I thought they’d never call,” he said.
He was most impressed by how INHF committee members were stationed in the Spokane airport to guide veterans to the Sun Country Airline charter plane gate.
“Many of them would say ‘thanks for your service,’ and shake your hand. When we deplaned at (Washington Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.,) they did the same greeting and cheering.”
“When we arrived back in Spokane on Wednesday evening (Sept. 25) there were at least 200 people plus a small band to greet us and wish us well,” Mel said.
Other area veterans who made the trip were Walla Wallans Sam Schneidmiller, 91, a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942-46; Ken Nicoles, 89, who flew 35 missions over Germany with the U.S. Army Air Corps; Art Shinbo, 89, who served as an interpreter-translator with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence in the south Pacific, Australia, New Guinea, Philippines and Japan from 1943-46; Jack McCaw, 86, Waitsburg, who served in amphibious landing craft mechanized forces with the U.S. Navy; and from Dayton, Lowell Richter, 87, U.S. Army Air Corps at Guam; Fred “Grit” Gritman, 89, U.S. Navy aboard the Liberty Ship in the South Pacific and Atlantic oceans; Bob Budig, 90, U.S. Marine Corps, with service on Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima; and Brian Black, U.S. Army.
Mel said 84 men and women veterans, some with assistants, came along. Mel’s son, Fresno (Calif.) County Chief Deputy District Attorney Doug Haas, now of Clovis, Calif., was his wheelchair escort. Aides such as Doug — those who accompany a veteran who can use an extra hand navigating a wheelchair — are called guardians, .
“We stayed in a hotel in D.C., with all meals furnished. Going there, we ate breakfast and lunch on plane, went to a banquet that night, had breakfast at the hotel, lunch on the bus while touring and dinner on the plane coming home. In contrast, his son, as a guardian, paid $900 to go on the trip.
“We saw the World War II, Navy, Vietnam, Women in Military Service for America and Korean memorials and the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. And I think part of going on this trip is getting to meet a lot of the guys from different towns,” Mel said. “It was just really an experience. It was quick, but how long does it take to look at a monument? I’ve seen the Marines on Iwo Jima (U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial) before, but it is one to see — it’s so vivid.”
“It was marvelous, so well handled. It was planned down to the minute,” Art added.
He appreciated the Korean War Memorial, which in part has 19 statues that range from 7 feet 3 inches to 7 feet 6 inches tall. The figures, kitted out in full battle gear and draped in ponchos, represent a squad on patrol, 14 from the U.S. Army, three from the Marine Corps, one a Navy corpsman and one an Air Force forward air observer. Wearing full combat gear, they’re dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes that represent the rugged terrain of Korea.
“I was impressed,” Art said. “Veterans of the Korean War were not welcomed home to the same hoopla. I was impressed that they were finally acknowledged.”
Art also said he and fellow honored veterans were transported in three buses on busy Washington streets, led by police with flashing lights and sirens — and everybody got out of the way.
The next flight will be Oct. 29-30, Mel said. Any veteran interested in the trip can call him at 525 8879.