Veterans to Visit WWII Memorial
Local Rotary Clubs are saying "thank you" to World War II veterans by taking them to Washington to visit the World War II memorial.
It is all part of a nationwide effort called Honor Flight. The clubs are working with the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization created to honor America's veterans.
"We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials," the organization says, explaining its primary focus on veterans who may not be around much longer. "Top priority is given to the senior veterans -- World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.
"Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation -- and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with over 1,000 World War II veterans dying each day, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out."
Five local veterans are the first to make this trip, leaving Saturday for Triad International Airport at Greensboro and their flight to Washington. This first group includes a Bataan Death march survivor, a World War II fighter pilot who went on to become a college professor, a golf coach, and a member of three sports halls of fame, and a black soldier who began serving his country in a segregated Army and ended his active service in the first integrated unit.
Sgt. John Mims made it through the grueling, tortured trek of that infamous death march. Today, vigorous and patriotic, he gives many a talk to young and old telling about those experiences.
It was hot as a pistol in the Philippines," Mims said. "We cooled off with sarsaparilla and gin."
Dr. Edwin "Ed" Cottrell, was a pilot who almost didn't come home. Enemy fire hit his plane over Germany.
"We were flying in formation, and I was just to the left of the squadron leader's plane when he peeled off and left us alone," Cottrell aid. "I wondered why -- and then a shot from a German plane hit my engine. There was oil all over the windshield. I turned and headed for home base, wondering if I could make it in time. The engine was cutting in and out."
He had almost made it to the border, and was nearly out of Germany, when he spotted two Messerschmitt fighters bearing down on his own aircraft from the rear. With his plane disabled, there was no way Hipple could take evasive action.
"Then the Messerschmitts came upon each side of me, waggled their wings, and gave me an escort out of German airspace," he said -- marveling to this day at their sportsmanlike conduct that kept them from hitting a man when he was down. "They weren't going to shoot me down. They were making sure we got home safely."
J. Rochell Small served with the all-black 371st of the 109th Infantry in the still-segregated Army of that time. Today, he heads the West Southern Pines American Legion Post.
He recalls working as a young man in Oyster, Mass., at a time when Pinehurst virtually closed for the summer and hotel staff went north.
"I worked at the Oyster Head Club," he said. "They closed Mid Pines, and I went up there. The Kennedy boys were there. I washed glasses in the bar. I'd take a Coca-Cola bottle, pour some out, put rum in the rest of it, and recap it. Ted was little, but John was already in uniform. Sergeant Shriver was there visiting the family and already getting together with Eunice. They'd take the Cokes, and give me five dollars."
Later, after the war, Small found himself in Washington meeting Shriver and trying to get a job with the Office of Economic Opportunity.
"I reminded him," Small said. "He said, 'I thought that was you.' Then he turned to his aide and said he'd hire me."
When stationed in Europe, Small was in the first integrated unit. That was in the 1950s.
"We didn't live together," he said. "But we did march together."
Today, his post in West Southern Pines is all black.
"Our post is still segregated," he said. "Because we don't have any white members."
When George Atherholt -- a past Rotary governor who had served in World War II with the 166th Field Artillery Battalion that hit Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day -- heard Small say that, he made a promise.
"Well, that's over," Atherholt said. "I am going to come down and join you."
In the meantime, he'll be joining Small, Cottrell and Mims on another mission -- one to pay respects to comrades from that great war, to those who survived and to others who did not.
For the Rotarians of the Sandhills clubs who are sponsoring these trips (the second one will be later in October), this is a chance to honor these veterans at no cost. The flights and tours that Honor Flight Network provides World War II and terminally ill veterans are absolutely free; everything is paid by these Rotary Club sponsors.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story