This Veterans Day two local men, Edwin Allender and Melvin Littrell, have new memories to add to old ones. Allender, a retired veteran who saw service in Korean and Vietnam; and Littrell, a veteran of the Korean War, were honored with a trip to Washington, D.C. , sponsored by Central Missouri Honor Flight.
Sunday, September 24, 2017 This Veterans Day two local men, Edwin Allender and Melvin Littrell, have new memories to add to old ones. Allender, a retired veteran who saw service in Korean and Vietnam; and Littrell, a veteran of the Korean War, were honored with a trip to Washington, D.C. , sponsored by Central Missouri Honor Flight. Bucklin resident, Ralph Thomas, District 2 Adjutant, also made the trip. Chillicothe Legion Post No. 25 is in District 2. According to Littrell and Allender “ This was a trip of a lifetime.” The 109 veterans selected for the trip made three trips to Columbia, first for orientation, then for the trip, and later for a reunion. Veterans from three wars filtered into the Courtyard Marriott Hotel conference center. Among the group were two WWII veterans, 12 Korean War veterans, with the remainder being from the Vietnam War. They came together, not as strangers, rather brothers for a common cause. The Central Missouri Honor Flight at Columbia does not allow family members on the trip, as the program is all about the veteran, for them alone to enjoy. Family is invited to all activities at the hotel. At the orientation meeting family members are seated at the back of the room. Each veteran was assigned a table number and guardian, who explained his job to the veteran. Allender was among three veterans assigned to ‘Joe’ a war veteran and retired registered surgical nurse. His open smile and mild manner formed an immediate bond. Littrell was placed at a different table with his guardian, a retired Air Force veteran whose broad smile and soft spoken voice put one at ease. This tall man was in his words, ‘giving back to his brothers’ taking time off from his employment to do so. Sunday, October 1, 2017 The Littrells and Allenders returned to the hotel on Sunday, Oct. 1, to rest, nap, and relax while waiting on the action to begin. At midnight, a breakfast was held in the conference room for the veterans, and last minute details were provided. Three buses were waiting to transport them to St. Louis for the flight to Washington, D.C. The veterans were assigned to the ‘red, white, or blue bus’ for the trip. From medical history provided, some veterans were assigned a wheelchair from St. Louis to return. Joining the veterans were the guardians, nurses, and doctors. The guardians pay $300 for their first three flights, for the privilege of pushing veterans in wheelchairs, taking complete charge of their needs, and being with them at all times during the trip. They also hold the veteran’s ID; air boarding pass; medicines, and emergency information during the trip, and dispense accordingly. It is dedication in the purest form. As boarding time arrived for departure, in the excitement Littrell and Allender simply got in line and boarded the bus. The wives stood outside the bus watching for a goodbye wave, which did not happen. They could be seen laughing and chatting up a storm, grinning from ear to ear. All wrapped up in ‘their’ trip, their wives stood laughing and chatting with other wives in the same situation. Finally, at 2 a.m., the buses pulled out. The first leg of Central Missouri Honor Flight No. 49 was on its way. Monday, October 2, 2017 At 8:15 a.m. (eastern time) the veterans arrived at Reagan National Airport and departed for Arlington National Cemetery with the Capitol Police leading the buses swiftly through the city. Yes, they were ‘Very Important People’ and were treated as such all day. “The Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the laying of the wreath has left a lasting impression upon me,” Allender said. “It was so impressive and heart rendering, I shall never forget it”. Littrell voiced the same thoughts as the men marveled at the sights they had seen and the camaraderie they shared. During the visit they had a rolling tour of prominent buildings and The Marine Iwo Jima Memorial. Again guided by the Capitol Police through red lights and stop signs. People everywhere cheered them. Other stops were the ‘Women in Military Service Memorial; WW2 Memorial; Lincoln; Korea; and Vietnam Memorials and Air Force Memorial. While at Arlington the group was on the steps of the Memorial Building at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when one of the veterans began singing ‘God Bless America’. Immediately, all 109 veterans were joyfully singing their praises of America. There is always a large crowd at Arlington Cemetery on any given day. As the singing began everyone stopped, grew quiet, placed their hand over their heart, and stood in reverence. Afterwards, they all applauded. A television crew caught it on camera, as well as the two professional photographers hired by the Central Missouri Honor Flight for each of their trips. That night it was on television in Washington, D.C., and on several stations in Missouri, including Columbia. It was noted that this had never happened before on any of the trips by the Honor Flight, and as far as anyone could tell it was the first time it had happened. Homecoming #1 On the flight back to St. Louis, the tired, but happy, veterans settled down for a nap. Upon arrival at Lambert Airport, everything continued to go like clockwork as they boarded the buses for Columbia. As they approached the Kingdom City exist something different was happening. The Missouri Highway Patrol had entered I-70 and closed the westbound lanes and began escorting the buses. Then another surprise – about 400 Patriot Riders, often two to one motorcycle, joined in behind the Patrol in escorting the veterans all the way to the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Columbia. Back at the hotel, hundreds of people had gathered to welcome home the veterans by waving flags and cheering. Family members, friends, ROTC members, local dignitaries and local people from all walks of life who simply wanted to let the veterans know ‘they cared’ were there. It was an inspiring and patriotic affair, one that made each person there very proud. There was music, patriotic singing, a bagpipe playing, and those in charge of the ‘Homecoming’ passed along phone updates on some of the trip highlights the veterans had experienced as well as their expected time of arrival, and the fact the Patrol and Patriotic Riders were ‘bringing them in’. As usual, the many volunteers were everywhere helping anyone who needed information or assistance or a bottle of water or cup of coffee. The buses arrived at 10 p.m. The veterans’ wives were seated in a cordoned off area next to the hotel driveway. The Highway Patrol led the Patriotic Riders into the hotel driveway. Littrell’s wife, Meredith, and this writer were within arms’ reach of some of the motorcycle riders, two abreast, as they came zooming past the crowd in what seemed like an endless parade of riders, all flying an American Flag. Many were decorated with lights or signs. Finally, the buses parked upon the street and began unloading their precious cargo, our American Veterans. First off were the two WWII veterans, then the 12 Korean veterans, followed by the Vietnam veterans. Each veteran was escorted by a person on each side of him at the top of the driveway and introduced by name, service served under, place served, town of residence and then wildly cheered as they made their way down the driveway into the conference center. Escorts were the Highway Patrol, ROTC, guardians, nurses, and the doctors. Both Littrell and Allender were so caught up in the pageantry, lights, and lack of sleep, that they walked right by their wives – who were waving flags and could have touched them – without seeing them. The wives did understand and met them inside the hotel. They had risen on Sunday morning, made the drive to Columbia, visited, rested one hour, visited with other veterans, been served a breakfast at midnight on Sunday, and left at 2 a.m. on Monday, arriving back home at 10 p.m. Monday. The Reunion The third trip for the Honor Flight was on Oct. 22, for a reunion. New buddies were reunited, a video with highlights of the trip, a lot of laughs on things that happened during their long day in D.C. and, of course, a banquet. Finally, the trip back home. It was all over, but never forgotten as these two local veterans will forever marvel at the trip of a lifetime. The sights, sounds, tears shed, The Wall and the many markers in Arlington Cemetery of those that gave their all for our freedom today, the memorials, all memories now seared into the heart and minds of the men, Veterans of Central Missouri Honor Flight No. 49. The Central Missouri Honor Flight schedules trips monthly beginning in April to November. They are free to veterans through donations, and the many volunteers who assist. The guardians, nurses, doctors, volunteer men and women at the conference center, and those who co-ordinate the trips. From the moment one walks into the conference center a volunteer is there to assist for any need or give out information. One young volunteer, Alex, a middle school eighth grader, has volunteered for four years (along side his grandmother). This eighth grader has two loves, helping veterans and playing football for his school in Hallsville, Mo. God Bless our young, for they are our future.