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Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, August 26, 2009

World War II veterans
from area take flight

by H. Alan Smith

What does it mean for a World War II veteran to have an opportunity to visit the war memorials and Arlington Cemetery in the nation's capitol as part of a group of a planeload of other veterans?

If the three veterans from Ringgold county who made the Honor Flight trip earlier this month are any example, it means a lot.

As Marvin SOBOTKA of Diagonal said, "It was beyond belief, I just canít put it in words."

Honor Flights are part of a program to take free day trips to Washington, D.C. for veterans to honor them for their service. Along the way they get to share again with fellow veterans as well as visit the World War II memorial and other memorial sites in the nationís capitol.

Taking the trip when a Central Iowa Honor Flight was offered Tuesday, Aug. 11, were Calvin ADAMS of Mount Ayr, Jake DAILEY of Mount Ayr and Marvin SOBOTKA of Diagonal.

ADAMS served in World War II from March 1943 to January 1946. He served in the Air Force, flying B-29 bombers in the South Pacific and Japan.

DAILEY served from July 1942 to December 1945 with the U.S. Navy. DAILEY served in the medical corps at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital and then in surgery installations in the Admiralty Islands in the southwest Pacific.

SOBOTKA went into the Air Force right after graduating from Benton high school in 1941 and served until the end of the war in 1945. He served with the 98th Bomb Group and flew 50 combat missions in a B-24 bomber in the war in Europe. His group flew the most missions of any bomb group in the war, he remembers.

For the veterans, the whole Honor Flight program is free. Groups and individuals make donations to pick up all the costs for the trips.

The Heartland Honor Flights have been organized with the help of Bill and Evonne WILLIAMS of Omaha, NE. The couple wanted World War II veterans to be able to see the National World War II Memorial while the veterans could still make the trip.

Jeff BALLENGER of Council Bluffs and his father Bill were the organizers of this latest flight. Hy-Vee Food Stores picked up the $250,000 price tag for the flight that took the Ringgold county veterans to the nation's capitol and provided a meal for the group beforehand.

Efforts are being made to make other trips from Iowa in the future and already more than 700 veterans have expressed interest.

"We can't thank all the people who helped organize the trip enough," Marvin SOBOTKA said.

For the Ringgold county group, the trip began on Monday afternoon when they registered at the Holiday Inn near the airport in Des Moines, where they would spend the night. There were 350 veterans and 55 volunteers who escorted the veterans, most of whom have passed the 80-year-old mark as it has been 64 years since the end of the war in 1945. In fact the youngest traveler on the trip was 82 and there was a 100 year old who made the trip this time as well.

After checking in at the Holiday Inn, the veterans were taken to the Hy-Vee Conference Center in Des Moines for an evening meal. The meal was for veterans who would make the trip and family members who brought them to Des Moines. Veterans from further out in the state were flown to Des Moines for the trip.

The bus trip to the meal was an experience in itself as thousands of people were standing along the route to cheer, wave and hold flags thanking the veterans for their service.

"There were lots of tears on the bus, I'll tell you," Jake DAILEY said. "It was really touching to see those people take time to thank us for our service."

Calvin ADAMS said the procession of motorcycles, police cars and buses up Fleur Drive was one of the highlights of the trip for him as well.

"Their being out there just made you feel that your service was appreciated," ADAMS said.

At Hy-Vee headquarters, the veterans and volunteers were fed efficiently and several groups sang World War II era songs. There was a Baptist Church choir and a group who entertained like the McGuire Sisters. DAILEY was impressed with all the Hy-Vee volunteers on hand who served the meal so quickly.

Then it was back to the hotel for a short night's sleep.

At 2 a.m. the veterans were up for breakfast and volunteers from the Des Moines Police Department and Des Moines Fire Department helped with security checks as luggage was loaded. By 4 a.m. the veterans were loaded on buses for the airport, where bands and more people met the veterans for another welcome send-off.

The Honor Flight used a 747, which was parked out on the tarmack away from the regular terminal. Governor Chet Culver and his wife were among dignitaries on hand as the veterans loaded the plane.

The steps up the plane were lined with volunteers who helped the veterans onto the plane and their bags were taken and loaded.

The Mount Ayr travelers recognized Ron BRAND, a Mount Ayr boy as DAILEY put it, among the people helping get the plane loaded.

The flight to Washington, D.C. was special for ADAMS, who flew the biggest planes in the service during World War II, the B-29 bombers.

"Those planes were midgets compared to the 747 we flew on," he said. "A 747 weights 180 tons without any passengers or baggage," he marveled.

How did the plane get to Washington, D.C.?

SOBOTKA and ADAMS remember all the details as they were in the Air Force during the war.

"We were flying at 34,000 feet above sea level where the temperature outside was 68 degrees below zero," ADAMS remembers. "Our cruising speed was 673 miles per hour."

SOBOTKA said that the temperature was near the 72 degrees below zero the air temperature reached outside his bomber on a bombing run to Lenz, Austria during the war.

The airplane landed at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., where there were another couple thousand people on hand to greet the veterans, lining the way the veterans took to buses.

"I don't know where they would come from on a Tuesday morning, but they were giving high fives and saying things like 'God bless you,'" DAILEY said.

Among the people there were staff members for Congressman Leonard BOSWELL, who greeted and helped the veterans.

The veterans were loaded on buses which took them to the World War II Memorial as their first stop.

Former Senator Bob Dole was one of those on hand at the memorial, and he had his picture taken with DAILEY and ADAMS.

The World War II Memorial was one of the highlights of the visits for SOBOTKA.

"We found the Iowa marker and had our pictures taken there," SOBOTKA said. "I held up a Hy-Vee bag for one of them because I appreciated their helping fund the trip so much."

The veterans visited the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean Memorials, stopped by Arlington Cemetery for the changing of the guard, and visited the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in a day of sightseeing.

The memorials got the veterans to talking about their experiences with each other and with the volunteers and helpers at the sites. One of the veterans had served on Iowa Jima and the stop at the memorial there got him to talking and soon there was a large group standing around listening to his remembrances.

"There were a lot of stories told to each other by the travelers," DAILEY said. "Some of them may have been exaggerated a little by the years, but they were all important to hear and tell."

SOBOTKA met a 100-year-old veteran on the trip -- Dale Johnson of Gretna and they visited quite a bit.

SOBOTKA had made several bombing runs on Munich during the war and had flown over a town 40 miles away that had red crosses on the roofs signifying that it as a hospital. It was anything but that. It was the Dauchau prison camp where many Jews and other prisoners went to their deaths.

He was interested in his discussion with JOHNSON because JOHNSON helped shoot off the locks of the prison compound that the Germans had abandoned on May 9, the day after the war in Europe was called to an end on May 8.

Like other veterans, they shared the connections that tied their stories together.

The buses had the visitors back to Dulles Airport by 5 p.m. for their 8:30 flight. Because there was only a handful of TSA personnel to handle the security checks instead of the flood of law enforcement and military personnel who helped in Des Moines, the plane didn't get off the ground until almost 11 p.m. and the plane didn't arrive back in Des Moines until 1 a.m.

After unloading there, the veterans had the two hour ride home to Mount Ayr. DAILEY and ADAMS were riding together and DAILEY'S daughter, Martha LANDPHAIR, said the two were just chattering away like school boys about the experience the whole way home.

From the time the veterans had gotten up on Tuesday morning to the time they made it home early Wednesday morning, it was a 25-hour day for the travelers. They felt it was well worth it.

"When they have another trip I think anyone who is eligible should try to go," ADAMS said. "They treated us like kings the whole trip."

DAILEY had been to Washington, D.C. three or four years ago, but making the trip with other veterans was a different experience than his other trips to the nationís capitol, he noted.

The Honor Flight program is a non-profit organization that is making a point of allowing World War II veterans, especially, to make trips to the nationís capital and to remind them that the nation is still thankful for their service.

In the month of August alone, almost a dozen flights with 350 or so veterans flew into Washington, D.C. from all over the country.

DAILEY said he saw a piece about the program on television and looked for an application and got it sent right in. The veterans are chosen for the trip on a first come, first served basis once applications for a trip are available, he said.

He said he would recommend the trip to any veteran and hoped that more Ringgold county veterans would have the opportunity for the trip in the future.

"It was a very enjoyable trip," ADAMS said.

  Photographs courtesy of Mount Ayr Record-News

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, September of 2012

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