By Laurie Hindman
It was over 60 years ago when 17 year old Frank Macdonald (always known by his middle name, Sam) voluntarily inducted into the Army’s infantry. A short time later he and 186 men of the 4th Division, Company I, were marching through Europe, digging foxholes and trenches, engaging in combat, fighting and dying. Only 13 returned.
Last Tuesday, Macdonald and 182 other World War II veterans from Colorado were flown to Baltimore, Md., and from there driven by bus to Washington, D.C. Their trip was paid for by Northern Colorado Honor Flight, a non-profit organization created for the purpose of transporting America’s veterans to the nation’s capital to visit the memorial dedicated to their service and sacrifices. According to their Web site, www.HonorFlight.org , more than 1,000 WWII veterans die each day, many without ever having seen the memorial created in their honor.
Macdonald’s trip begin at The Ranch in Loveland, where the veterans, some with canes or in wheelchairs, were greeted by “guardians,” volunteers who paid $800 for the privilege of accompanying them to Washington. The veterans were given tote bags with food, water, hats, tee shirts and disposable cameras. When reveille sounded the men joined together for the National Anthem and boarded buses bound for a special hangar and charter jet at Denver International Airport. The buses were escorted by a motorcade of Patriot Guardsmen; along Interstate 25, at every overpass, firefighters and state patrol officers stood by the their vehicles, lights flashing, saluting the veterans as they passed. At the airport there were more greeters, a marching band and service men and women shaking their hands and cheering.
Berthoud resident Jim Crisp, went on the Northern Colorado inaugural flight in September 2008, departing from the Cheyenne Airport in Wyoming. He said it was overwhelming. “I started to cry. I said I don’t deserve all this.” Crisp was in the Air Corp training squadron working with B-25 and B-17 bombers and spent most of the war in La Junta. However, at one point he flew to Hong Kong to bring new troops over and transport the wounded home. “There were terrible casualties,” said Crisp. “A lot of sad things happened.”
But Crisp said it was good being with other vets, sharing their experiences. “Most didn’t say a word about the war for 60 years. Now some are ready to talk.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Macdonald. He did, however, want to talk about the trip to Washington, which he described as amazing. “Everywhere we went people greeted us with cheers and handshakes. They thanked us for our service. There was a lot of patriotism.”
Crisp and Macdonald said that when they arrived in Baltimore, they were treated to a banquet at the hotel and a speech by a retired general. The next day they were loaded onto buses by 7:30 a.m. for the two-hour ride from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. Macdonald’s group spent a couple hours wandering through the memorial in a cold rain. “I didn’t much mind,” said Macdonald. “I thought the memorial was magnificent.” Both Macdonald and Crisp said they were impressed with its beauty and grand design. “It takes awhile to walk around the whole thing,” said Macdonald.
Crisp said he was particularly moved by the Freedom Wall, the part of the memorial that honors the fallen. The wall is emblazoned with 4,038 gold stars, one for every 100 American soldiers who died in the war. At the base of the wall runs a pool where the stars reflect and shimmer.
From there the veterans toured the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. In the afternoon it was back to the buses and on the road to the Baltimore-Washington Airport. Although it was an exhausting, whirlwind trip both Crisp and Macdonald said it was a wonderful experience. Macdonald stressed that while he appreciated all that was done for him, he wasn’t that important.
“I had a lot of great buddies who died,” said Macdonald, his voice husky. “Those are the ones who need to be remembered the most.”
World War II veterans Frank “Sam” Macdonald and Jim Crisp took part in Northern Colorado Honor Flight, dedicated to bringing WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., at no cost, to see the memorial created in their honor. Crisp was flown to the WWII Memorial in September 2008. Inspired by Crisp’s experience, Macdonald made the same journey on April 28.