By Dixie Terry
Honor Flight participant
Since April 2009, several hundred World War II veterans, from the southern third of Illinois have participated in a program called “Central Illinois Honor Flight.”
These veterans have been presented a complimentary one-day or two-day flight to Washington, D.C., with a tour of the many war memorials, including the World War II Memorial complex.
On September 13-14, Johnson County was represented by a number of vets and their guardians on the 20th Honor Flight.
One of those was Wayne Jeffries who joined the U.S. Navy in January 1941, at the age of 18, and served his country through January 1947. He spent the war years on squadron flying boats and in a convoy protecting submarines, mostly off the coast of Brazil. His crew was responsible for destroying an Italian sub and six German submarines. He was presented the “Presidential Unit Citation” and saw lots of water in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. “I went where they told me, and did what they told me to do,” he shared.
Jeffries came back home to farm and worked for twenty-seven years in the postal service at Vienna. In 1948, he married Shirley Moore of Johnson County, whose brothers had served in the Army and Air Force. The couple had five daughters and a son, who has passed away. One of those daughters, Carol Gordon, served as her dad’s guardian on the Honor Flight.
Jeffries said, “For me, the war was a paid vacation, compared to what some did.” He said he had a friend buried at Arlington National Cemetery, one of the stops for the Honor Flight.
He shared that he was glad to serve his country and glad that he got to make the trip to Washington, D.C. Although he has flown on airplanes, the trip was his first on a jet.
Cathy Dudley, Goreville, served as a guardian for her uncle, Howard Hill, of Christopher. Her father, Fred Seibert served in WWII in the Navy. After falling down a ladder on a Navy submarine, he developed pneumonia and was hospitalized in the Philippines. Hill, who served in the Army during 1943-45, in air and ground activity, in the South Pacific, New Guinea, and the Philippines, was stationed only a few miles from where his brother-in-law was hospitalized. He visited him three times before he died at age 28. He wrote the letter to the young sailor’s wife telling her of his passing, and four years later, he was brought home for burial. Cathy was only 9 months old when her dad died. Said Hill, “The heroes died–thank God we made it!” The Honor Flight served as a time of memories for Dudley and Hill. “This trip is for my dad!” said Dudley.
Clarence Cox, a Johnson County native, was drafted into the U.S. Infantry at age 19, while he was attending SIU-C. He served his country during April 1943-Fall l945. He returned home to attend the U. of I. and earned his master’s degree in six years.
Cox began his training at Camp Croft, S.C. and went on to Ft. Dix, N.J. before being shipped to England with the 1st Infantry Division, our country’s oldest. He trained for the Normandy Invasion and saw lots of action, including the Battle of the Bulge. Cox was wounded twice, but was only bruised when shrapnel hit him flat. He was in five major invasions and received a Purple Heart for his service. He returned home and married Jean Taylor of Simpson and then taught vocational agriculture at Cave-In-Rock, Grayville, and Joppa, for a total of 38 years. The couple had three daughters and one son, Reggie, of Karnak, who served as his dad’s guardian. The Coxs now live in Cox Addition on the Lake of Egypt.
Kenny Robison, a Goreville resident until recently, and now of Herrin, served as guardian for his uncle, Edgar Allen Robison of Hurst. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in late 1942 and spent basic training in Great Lakes. His unit was sent to the naval hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., where he obtained the rank of 3rd class, and on to Mayport, Fla., where he received his 2nd class rank. Training in Boston and Rhode Island for advanced PT service followed. He once saw John F. Kennedy in the training center, where he was also in training. From New York City, Robison was bound for the West Indies, and on through the Panama Canal and on to the South Pacific aboard a tanker.
A stop in the Philippines and two stops in New Guinea followed. His boats participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf before he was transferred to Mandora, Portunis, Caviti, and finally to the medical supply depot located on Base 4. As a pharmacist mate he took care of the sick and wounded in the sick bays, taking charge of inoculations. His most memorable time was during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf when he and his comrades were dumped on the beach, with plenty of fear there and several other locations. The war ended while he was stationed in the Philippines and his unit caught a tanker back to California and via train to Lambert Field to return home. He married his girlfriend Billie and worked at various jobs before working his way up to superintendent of sales orders at the Norge plant in Herrin and working there for 33 l/2 years. Robison enjoyed the Honor Flight and seeing all the war memorials, along with his nephew, Kenny Robison.
Bob Wilson, Goreville, enlisted in 1944 in the Army Air Force, but the Air Cadet program for which he signed up was then closed. He trained in Biloxi, Mississippi as a B-17 radio operator/mechanic, and then in Madison, Wisconsin, before being sent to Germany, via LaHarve, France. He was assigned to be a B-29 tail gunner, and would have been dropping bombs over Japan, but that roster was canceled. In Germany, he served as a clerk, flight line, and whatever, but was in no active combat. As a sergeant, he was requested to reenlist, which he decided against. His crew was sent to France, Switzerland, and Italy for an R and R, which he said was enjoyable. While still stationed in Germany, he got to sit in on the crime trial in Nuremberg, which was memorable. When he arrived home in 1946, he was an active Air Force reservist for a while. Wilson saw the Honor Flight in a VFW magazine and decided to give it a try. His son, Stephen Wilson, an attorney in Cape Girardeau, was his guardian.
Wilson and his wife, Dottie, retired to Eagle Point Bay on the Lake of Egypt several years ago. Wilson said he especially enjoyed the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and viewing the Enola Gay, that was used for dropping the first atomic bomb. He also appreciated being able to see the WWII Memorial, and deemed the Washington trip as a great experience.
The recent Honor Flight was number twenty for the Central Illinois Honor Flight, and was only the second one to depart from the Williamson County Regional Airport. Previous flights have been from Champaign and St. Louis.
Don Niehart, Effingham, started the C.I.H.F., after seeing the concept on CBS Sunday Morning, three years ago. He contacted Earl Morse, of Ohio, a retired Air Force captain, who had originated the Honor Flight.
“I wanted to get it started here,” and he set about to raise funds and recruit volunteers, friends and family, including his mother, and his sister, who was serving on the recent flight.
Each participating vet is given the complimentary one or two-day trip to our nation’s capital at no cost. Each vet is accompanied by a guardian, who is a relative, friend, or a C.I.H.F. volunteer, each of whom is required to pay $400 for a one-day, or $500 for a two-day flight. If any vet does not have his own guardian, one will be provided.
On the September flight, the seventy-two men and two women were taken to Marine, Air Force, Navy, and World War II memorials; the Lincoln, Korean, and Vietnam memorial sites; Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guard ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier; and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
As well, the three coaches that transport them around the city, passed by many well-known sites, with views of the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Federal Reserve Building, Internal Revenue Service complex, and more.
The entourage enjoyed catered lunches and breakfasts enroute, and an evening dinner in a 16th floor ballroom at The Sheraton, where the night was spent before departing for a full second day.
When the group arrived in Washington at the Reagan International Airport, the veterans were cheered as they entered the terminal, with strangers shaking their hands and thanking them for giving our country its freedom during WWII. This was repeated at each stop throughout both days.
On the arrival at the Williamson County Regional Airport, there were police cars and fire trucks awaiting the plane, with lights flashing. A welcoming lineup of local military organization members and a large group of motorcycle riders shook hands with each vet. The terminal was filled with dozens, cheering and clapping, some who handed out flags and patriotic artwork from many of the youngsters, to the returning vets, which proved to be a teary time for one and all.
Enroute home on the flight, each vet was presented a packet of “Mail Call,” letters from area school children, and others who had been contacted weeks prior to the flight.
The local Daniel Chapman Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution had also mailed letters of appreciation to all the vets.
Anyone knowing of a WWII veteran, or who is one, is urged to contact Niehart at 217-254-2986 or fax at866-692-5770, with the website at firstname.lastname@example.org.