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Veterans flying to Washington to visit memorial

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

ATHENS — Franklin Jones bought a new alarm clock and checked it out immediately. He flies out of Huntsville International Airport on Wednesday morning at 6:05. He needs to be there at 4:30.

For Jones, who turns 84 in two weeks, tardiness will be no excuse.

And for a man who flew in combat, it won’t be his most exhilarating ride. But at this point, it will be the flight of his life.

He’ll join 13 other area World War II veterans on a free commercial flight to Washington, D.C., and a visit to the World War II Memorial. The trip is the first Honor Flight Tennessee Valley Chapter. The veterans also will tour the White House and visit other monuments before returning to Huntsville that night at 7.

Among the leaders of the group is board member Faye McWhorter and her husband, Roger, of Decatur.

Also on the flight will be Joe Fitzgerald of Huntsville, chapter president.

An Ohioan, Earl Morse, a retired Air Force captain and a physician’s assistant in a veteran’s hospital, founded the national organization more than two years ago.

Many have never been

The number of World War II veterans he met who had not seen their memorial troubled him.

Many, he said, didn’t have the money, and others didn’t feel like planning a difficult outing.

“I’m just ecstatic to have the opportunity to go and see it,” Jones said. “Look how long they piddled around before they ever did anything in the way of a memorial for us.”

Jones, a 1941 graduate of Woodlawn High School, was an aerial engineer on a C-47 and took part in some of the most memorable events of the war as a member of the 50th Air Force Wing, 441st Troop Carrier Group, 302nd Troop Carrier Squadron.

Just after midnight on D-Day, June 6, 1944, his plane was among a fleet leaving Great Britain for Cherbourg, France, to drop paratroopers, supplies and equipment for the Normandy invasion.

“We traveled only 80 to 100 mph, and we flew less than 1,000 feet high to be less inviting targets for anti-aircraft fire,” he said. “Flying in and around a lot of obstructions, we were harder to detect.”

The next day, Tech. Sgt. Jones and his squadron of C-47s towed gliders loaded with men, howitzers and Jeeps. During Christmas 1944, he was in on the relief of Bastogne, dropping supplies to the beleaguered Belgian city surrounded by Germans.

Later, flying out of an Italian base, he went to the aide of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.

“He was outrunning his supplies,” Jones said, “and his tanks were in desperate need of fuel. We let down the seats in our planes and loaded as many jerricans of gas as we could line up and stack.”

He said the planes landed on a dirt runway in Krieschen, Germany, just across the Rhine River, and he and the other crewmen unloaded them.

“That was the only time other than at Normandy that we had fighter cover we were aware of,” Jones said. “This time, we could see the P-38s.”

The military awarded Jones an Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.

Faye McWhorter said a few guardians for the veterans will be on Wednesday’s flight, and others will be waiting in Washington, including Morse.

Running out of time

Just as symbolic as Jones making certain he awakens on time, McWhorter knows that with World War II veterans dying at the rate of about 1,200 per day, Honor Flight is running out of time getting them to the memorial.

“We can’t get them there fast enough,” she said. “The chapter has already paid the deposit on a $60,000 charter flight Sept. 15 for 143 people. We hope to have 100 veterans aboard. If we can raise the money, the plans are to take three charter flights next year.”

McWhorter said Fitzgerald got e-mail Thursday from the wife of a veteran who had planned to take the September trip.

“It is with regret that I tell you he passed away March 19,” she wrote. “He was looking forward to the trip. Thank you for making the trip possible for so many of the veterans in the Tennessee Valley.”

McWhorter said donations to the non-profit group have a 501(c)(3) tax exemption. For more information, phone her at 340-1234.

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