LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - For Bill Gray, of the Little Rock District’s Navigation and Maintenance Section, keeping navigation moving on the Arkansas River is his job, but on Oct. 5 he was navigating uncharted waters.
“My brother, Tommy, and I accompanied our 95-year-old father, Charles Gray, on the Oct. 5 'Honor Flight' to Washington, D.C.,” said Bill Gray.
Charles was the lead navigator on a B-17 during World War II with the 8th Air Forces, 305th Bomb Group, and 366th Squadron. He was stationed in Charleston, England, from October 1944 to March 1945. He completed 30 raids over Germany and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for three acts.
One instance was for saving the crew and plane while leading a raid on Berlin. Anti-aircraft fire blew off the plane’s nose, cutting its oxygen lines and injuring the pilot, co-pilot and bombardier. At an altitude of 28,000 feet, Charles used his oxygen mask to revive the bombardier and used another oxygen tank to revive the pilot who then was able to fly the plane back to base.
When you thank him for his service, Charles says, “I just did my part!”
“A co-worker told me about an earlier Honor Flight and suggested that I take my dad,” said Bill Gray. “I talked it over with dad and my brothers, and we all decided to look into going.”
Bill Gray knew that the next Honor Flight was a trip he needed to make with his father while his father was still able to go.
“Dad has a number of health issues, but overall he’s not doing bad for a 95-year-old,” said Bill Gray. “The honor flight organizers have a doctor and three nurses on the plane and that made us more comfortable about taking the trip. We decided that this was a once-in-a-life time trip. You know dad isn’t getting any younger and his health isn’t getting any better.”
But two weeks before the scheduled flight, Charles had a nasty fall and bruised his face, shoulder and ribs.
“We weren’t sure dad was going to be up to the trip, but from all the things we had heard about it, we had to take him” said Bill Gray. “Dad was released from the hospital at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 and we were at the airport at 6:30 a.m. Oct. 5.”
Numerous groups in Little Rock and Washington, D.C., volunteered to honor the World War II veterans.
“When the plane touched down in D.C., the fire department did a water cannon salute,” said Bill Gray. “Then, when we got off the plane there were a huge number of volunteers waiting for us to thank the veterans for their service to the country. Dad was really impressed with all the people there honoring them, even the motorcycle escorts to the World War II memorial added special touches to the trip.”
The veterans also toured the Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial, and the Air Force Memorial as well as a bus tour of Washington, D.C., before heading home that day.
“It was an emotional trip," said Bill Gray. "My dad had a great time and was so honored by all the people who thanked them for their service and took time to visit with them.”
But it didn’t end there.
“When we got back to Little Rock, there were more volunteers welcoming the veterans back home,” said Bill Gray. “The whole day was just wonderful, a trip full of honoring these veterans and I got to be a part of it. Anyone that has a parent or friend that is a World War II veteran should take them on the Honor Flight; it is a trip of your lifetime that you will always remember!”
Honor Flight Network’s mission is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit these memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. Through the end of 2012, Honor Flight Network has transported more than 98,400 veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial. You can find out more about the Honor Flight Network at www.honorflight.org.