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Honor Flight a memorable experience for local veterans

By Suzi McKee • May 23, 2017 at 10:44 AM

Nineteen-year-old James Collins left Scott County, Va., to join the Army with no idea how his life would change in the coming months. Collins was in the first wave of troops that stormed Utah Beach June 6, 1944. Mr. Collins, an expert rifleman, spent seven months on the front lines before he was gravely wounded. When he told the doctors in England that he wanted to come home, “they told me I was too injured to make it back,” he said. “I had to wait a few more months before I could be shipped to Walter Reed.”

John Sawyer, 89, was stationed with Occupation troops in Germany for 13 months and then was sent to Vietnam in 1968. At Cam Ranh Bay, he transferred injured soldiers onto planes bound for better-equipped hospitals. “I saw a lot of things there that will remain with me,” Sawyer explained.

Ninety-year-old James Stalvey served from 1944 to 1946 and 80-year-old Jess Simpson is a Korean veteran who feels that “the maturity and knowledge that I gained from the military has helped me throughout my life.”

What do these four gentlemen have in common? In April, they went to Washington D.C. with the Honor Flight Chapter of Northeast Tennessee whose goal it is to travel each April and again in October with World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans to see the memorials in Washington that honor their service and sacrifice. Veterans are accompanied by “guardians” who are well-vetted and trained by Edie Lowry, executive director of Honor Flight NE TN.

Honor Flight is accompanied by a motorcycle escort which on the return numbers around 150 bikes. Eddy Pyles, an Honor Flight volunteer and a Patriot Guard member says, “We want to stand for those who stood for us. Being a small part of this trip means so much to all of us.” Information about Honor Flight trips spreads on social media and invites riders to escort these American Heroes on a very important trip.

One of the favorite places of this year’s group of veterans was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington Cemetery. “Seeing all of the graves made me feel humble,” John Sawyer shared.

“These young men wear no ranks,” Jess Simpson said. “They all want to be equal. The Sentinel takes 21 steps in each direction, pauses for 21 seconds, and then continues in a precise cadence.” Before he steps into position on the black mat if veterans are noticed in the crowd, he will scuff one foot as a silent salute to his brothers for whom he has the utmost respect. “That silent salute was one of the most powerful things I have ever witnessed,” said Chuck Crawford, one of this April’s guardians. “The attention to detail makes this a memorable experience.”

The community can help Honor Flight by sponsoring a veteran’s trip with a $375 donation, participating in benefits, or simply praying for continued success and safety of the group.

“I have never been in the presence of more prestigious people than these veterans. I was honored to be with them,” said Lori Anne Jones, public relations director for Honor Flight and a guardian herself for the April trip.

“To whom much is given much will be required” (Luke 12:48) and with the help of the community, Edie Lowry, a team of guardians, the Honor Flight staff and a host of volunteers can make the Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. a dream come true for our American Heroes.

If you'd like to sponsor a veteran or make a donation to support Honor Flight NE TN, contact Lowry at 423-330-6189 or visit the website at www.honorflightnetn.org. You can also find and follow Honor Flight of North East Tennessee on Facebook for regular updates.

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