COLUMBIA CITY — A group of local veterans of the second world war received long overdue recognition for having served during the conflict that called upon the “Greatest Generation” to give everything for world peace.
Robert Cornmesser, Robert Brock, both of Columbia City, and Fort Wayne resident Pauline “Polly” Bunyan, formerly of Columbia City, were whisked away to Washington, D.C. Nov. 10 as part of the fifth year of trips designed to take the nation’s oldest war veterans to where their grateful nation has erected monuments in their honor.
Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices by flying them to Washington, DC to reflect at their memorials.
Top priority is given to WWII survivors along with other veterans who are terminally ill.
According to the network’s website, the program presently has 71 hubs in 30 states.
Cornmesser, Brock and Bunyan were part of the November trip sponsored by the local hub, Honor Flight Northeast Indiana, Inc.
Veterans who make the trip are escorted by “guardians.”
Guardians for the local contingent that made the trip last month included Tim and Marci Schlotterback.
“I asked my husband what he thought about being guardians and he was in total agreement,” said Schlotterback. “We went on the inaugural flight in May, 2009 and we’ve been hooked ever since.”
Organizers for the Honor Flights tout the importance of the trips due to the rapidly increasing mortality rate of World War II veterans.
“Due to the senior age of our heroes, and the prediction that we are losing approximately 1,000 of them daily, we are committed to do all within our power to make their dream a reality,” reported the Honor Flight Network on its website.
Veterans who sign up for the trips to the nation’s capital are given the trip free of charge, courtesy of donations received by the non-profit organization.
And while the vets themselves leave Washington beaming with pride, guardians, such as the Schlotterbacks, get something as well.
“It’s hard to capture the spirit of this trip in words,” said Marci Schlotterback. “They are still raising funds in hopes of another flight. Time is so important because of the ages of the World War II veterans, we are losing them on a daily basis. The sooner we are able to raise enough funds the sooner more dreams can come true.”
Schlotterback said she heard about the program through a co-worker who founded the local chapter and was in the process of trying to raise enough funds for the first flight. “And I thought, ‘what better way to honor these veterans.’”
The Schlotterbacks have flown on three of the four flights so far and hope to be guardians on future flights.
“Each flight has been special in its own way and we feel so honored to be a small part of recognizing and paying tribute to the veterans that sacrificed so much for our country. They went to war and did what needed to be done and those who were fortunate enough to come back home, went back to their families and lives and did what they could to pick up where they left off and expected nothing from anyone.
“Many of them have never talked about the things that they saw and experienced during the war. And sadly enough, many have never even been thanked for their service. It’s hard to not get choked up when you are with them and witness complete strangers, men, women and children approach them and genuinely thank them for their service.”
The local veterans who made the trip said they felt the gratitude of the nation on a grand scale.
“It was nice,” said Brock, 87, “but it was too long a day for an old person like me. But it was nice and I’m glad I went.”
Brock served in the U.S. Army in the Solomon Islands.
“My two favorite parts were the World War II memorial and Arlington (National Cemetery).”
Brock’s favorite parts of the tour were concurred by Bunyan, 88, who with her husband Gene lived in Columbia City from 1953 to 1972.
Bunyan served in London just following the German Blitz in the official mail room of the Adjutant General’s Office. She served in both London and Paris during the war.
She said that although she arrived in London after the blitz, there was still periodic bombing by the German Luftwaffe. “It was mind boggling, the damage that was done.”
Bunyan still beams when remembering the trip.
“It (the Honor Flight) was great and it could not have been better. It was really a great trip and well organized.”
Bunyan said she had never been to Washington, D.C. before.
“I really enjoyed Arlington,” she said. “It was sad, but we were there for the changing of the guard.”
Schlotterback said she felt emotional watching the way the veterans were affected by the adulation they received.
“They each have their own way of dealing with it, but to see them tear up and really understand that after all these years, the American people do recognize the sacrifice they made for our country and that we appreciate it, it’s very heartwarming,” she said.
“It was a fantastic trip,” said Cornmesser, 85. “It was great, and the people behind it did a superb job.
Cornmesser served on a re-fueling tanker ship in the Philippines.
“It was a great period to live in, something the people today don’t comprehend.”
To make donations, or find out more information about becoming a guardian or signing a veteran up for the trip, go to www.hfnei.org