By Amanda McBride and Deborah Blake
On October 1, Mr. Marvin Oswalt and Mr. Pete Blake, both Choctaw County natives and World War II veterans, flew to Washington, DC as participants in a Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Air Flight.
The Gulf Coast Honor Flight team has flown six groups of World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. on a one-day trip to see their memorial, as well as the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.
At the Tomb of the Unknowns, the group had an official wreath-laying ceremony in memory of America’s fallen soldiers.
The group was able to enjoy lunch while visiting the Arlington National Cemetery.
“We got the grand tour of all of it,” said Mr. Oswalt.
Mr. Oswalt, 86 years old, and Mr. Blake, 89 years old, both served in the South Pacific during the War.
Mr. Oswalt served in the Navy and was severely wounded near the island of Leyte by Japanese gunfire strafing the ship on which he was a gunner. At the time, he was only 17 years old.
Mr. Blake served in the Army Air Corps as an aviation mechanic on the island of Leyte. At the end of the war, he served in the American Occupation Force in Japan.
As many may have seen on the local and national news, the Choctaw country veterans were in the group of veterans who arrived in Washington to find their memorial closed to the public due to the federal shutdown. As was stated by news reporters, with the assistance of several congressmen, the group of veterans entered the memorial despite the closure.
Mr. Oswalt said Sen. Palazzo cut down the tape blocking their entrance and said ‘Go in.’ Oswalt said the security guards then walked away.
Seeing the World War II monument was speechless for Mr. Oswalt.
“I cried. It’s our monument,” he said trying to describe what it was like to see their monument.
“I walked around the monument thinking about the ones that couldn’t be there.”
They were soon followed to the monument by a group of veterans from the state of Iowa.
Upon arriving back at the Gulfport airport, the Honor Flight was greeted with a ceremonial spraying of water by two airport fire trucks and an honor line of soldiers. Mr. Oswalt described the spraying of water as a “rainbow of water.”
Inside the airport, approximately 6,000 clapping and cheering people met the veterans.
“I can’t believe the reception in DC and back. There were thousands of people there to greet us,” said Oswalt.
The veterans received another surprise while in flight. Mail call was held where every veteran received mail from family and friends thanking them for their service to our country. The veteran’s family members kept the mail a secret so that they could be surprised during the mail call.
Mr. Oswalt and Mr. Blake wish to thank the many people who have thanked them for their service during the War and would also like to thank the people and companies all across Mississippi and the United States who make it possible for the World War II veterans to be flown to DC to see their memorial.
“This trip meant more to me than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” said Oswalt.
He added that every veteran should make this trip.
“I recommend any World War II vet to make this trip while you can,” said Oswalt. “You couldn’t book what we got.”
To learn more about Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Air Flight visit http://www.mgchonorflight.org/.
The next Honor Flight will be November 5.