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‘Flightless’ Honor Flights give veterans a chance to experience war memorials

When Owen Brewer stepped into the sunlight, he saw dozens of waving American flags and a crowd cheering for him. Then, he saw a man emerge from behind a banner, fully dressed in an Army uniform. To his surprise, it was Sergeant Jackson Brewer, Owen’s 27-year-old grandson whom he hadn’t seen in more than two years.

“Probably not a good idea to surprise a 92-year-old,” Jackson Brewer laughed.

MORE: 5 local veterans whose amazing stories of war have inspired us

On Saturday, Brewer was one of 50 Maple Knoll Village residents who took a “flightless” Honor Flight. The program, a partner of Honor Flight Tri-State, gives veterans who cannot travel the chance to virtually visit their service branch’s memorial in Washington, D.C. Started just last year, the flightless events save veterans the tiring 18-hour trip, but still allow for the same celebration of their service.

“They get everything that we do on our Honor Flight,” Carole Quackenbush, the flightless program coordinator, said. “It’s just wonderful to be able to provide this for someone who’s unable to do that 18-hour day.”

Megan Gresham-Ulrich, the vice president of communications at Maple Knoll Communities, said they tried to keep their honor flight as close to the real one as possible. Veterans were given flight pins and assigned an escort, while volunteers acted as stewardesses to guide attendees to their seats.

“(Veterans) don’t want us making a fuss over them, but we want to honor them for who they are,” Maple Knoll Chaplain Nancy Villaboy-Alphin said. “They get to travel in a different way.”

Charles M. Stanforth was 17 years old when World War II started. When he was of age to enlist he joined the Air Force reserves and went through a special radio training. He graduated and went to New York for one year of college before being called back and thrown in the infantry with the 75th in Reno, Nevada. He stayed stateside, and when the war ended three years later he continued to serve before going back to college.

Now at age 93, Stanforth felt Saturday’s flight not only honored him, but the friends he served with. Though he wished to have made it on the real flight, he was thrilled to be there.

“I always thought I’d like to go, but I decided that I couldn’t have made it. So, this is really nice,” Stanforth said.

The one person possibly more excited than Charles was his wife, Nell.

“This is wonderful. They ought to be honored. We can live with a little freedom because of that,” she said.

The celebrated veterans also included a few women, some of whom joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, in order to replace men for active duty.

One such woman is Pat Jackson, a 94-year-old resident of Maple Knoll. After finishing high school, she was inspired by a poster that said “Uncle Sam Needs You,” and decided join the Navy. She spent three days trying to convince her parents for their permission.

“I said to them ‘If you don’t let me go this year, you will have to let me go next year because I can go without your signature,’” Jackson said.

Jackson worked at the US Naval Air Primary Training Command in Glenview, Ill., during WWII. In her first job, she ran two electric mimeograph machines that would print instructions for the naval Airmen trainees. In the second job, she acted as a replacement for the admiral’s aide, who had left for active duty.

Following the war, Jackson met her husband, Dobler, at the Pratt Institute in New York City while taking an interior design class, and learned he was attending school on the G.I. Bill just like her after serving in the Marines.

They once wanted to go on a real honor flight to D.C., but Dobler was too sick to travel. Though he died in January, Jackson felt he was still with her on Saturday.

“He will be buried at a national cemetery in Dayton, and I will be buried beside him,” Jackson said.

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