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The experience of a lifetime
World War II veteran Denny Thomas recalls his experiences while being part of the Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon
U.S. Army and World War II veteran Denny Thomas proudly displays the plague he received from Congressman Greg Walden’s office, with a tribute by Walden to the Honor Flight veterans.
October 04, 2012
It was a trip of a lifetime, and World War II veteran Denny Thomas recalls his experience with the 2012 Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon with fond memories.
When Thomas got out of the service in 1946, nobody shook his hand or greeted him or thanked him when he arrived from overseas. Sixty years later, when he went on the Honor Flight, he said people were standing in line to say, ‘thank you sir, for what you did for your country.’
”It happened time and again — at airports and at the Capitol. Almost every place we went, people came up to us. It was an overwhelming, almost emotional experience for me,” reflected Thomas with misty eyes. “It was something I just hadn’t expected and I didn’t anticipate anything like this.”
Thomas served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. He moved to Prineville in 1954, and set up a practice as a general practitioner until he retired in 1994.
Thomas applied twice for the Honor Flight, and was chosen the second time. The Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon flies a group of up to 55 veterans to the nation’s capitol each year. During their visit, the veterans are honored by Oregon’s Congressional delegation, tour the U.S. Capitol, and visit the WWII, FDR, Lincoln, Korean War, Vietnam War, Navy, Air Force, and Iwo Jima memorials. They also visit Women in Military Service for America Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, and view the changing of the guard and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
Thomas traveled in September with 48 other veterans, including Prineville veterans Walt Orum, Jim Dunn, Mel McCoy, William Jordan, and Powell Butte resident Johnie Kelm. The group was assisted by five guardians from Prineville; Sam Morris, Bob Brumagin, Darlene Anderson, Nilla Landers, and Shirley Orum. Thomas said some of the veterans in his group were more than 90 years of age.
The group traveled to Portland the evening before the flight, and was treated with an orientation dinner.
Once on Alaskan Airlines, Thomas said that the seats were donated by the airline. The flight to Washington D.C. only took 4 ½ hours.
“It was the fastest I ever crossed the United States,” he exclaimed.
Once they arrived, Thomas said that each member was given a United States flag, a badge, a World War II cap, and a handbag for their treasures as they toured the various memorials. They were also presented with a World War II plaque when they visited the World War II Memorial.
The program is extremely well-organized,” said Thomas. “There was nothing left to chance.”
The first part of the tour included a visit to the visitor’s center at the United States Capitol. Senator Ron Wyden and Congressman Greg Walden were there to greet them, and mingled with the group. They were broken into smaller groups, and Wyden’s intern led their group on a tour of the old Supreme Court room at the Capitol.
“It was an awesome experience,” recalled Thomas. “It had the original furniture — the desk and the chairs. It was in use from 1810 to 1860. If you think back of the momentous decisions that came out of that room in those years just prior to our Civil War — all sorts of things — the Dred Scott decision for instance,” he mused.
The group also visited the old House of Representatives, which is directly under the Capitol.
“It was a really good morning,” said Thomas of the first day of the trip.
When visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Thomas said it was a moving experience. He recalled that he has been to Washington D.C. a couple of times before, and he has always enjoyed the experience.
“I love the city of Washington,” said Thomas. “There is so much to see in Washington and so much history.”
Upon approaching the Vietnam Memorial, Thomas said there was a kind of hallowed silence.
“Nobody talked very loud, and we just walked very quietly by these 50,000 names on this wall. It was really an awesome experience.”
Although Thomas said it was hard to choose one memorial over another, he was really impressed by the World War II Monument.
“It’s such a beautiful thing,” described Thomas. “It’s huge, beautiful fountains playing all the time, and each state has a statute around the perimeter of the structure.”
It was here that he was presented with his World War II plaque, with a tribute to the Honor Flight by Congressman Walden.
Thomas said that at one point in their tour, U.S. President Barack Obama went by in his motorized cavalcade.
In all, it was an experience that Thomas will always treasure.
“I know it meant a lot to all of those guys,” he said.