Paul Wickline of Mount Sterling took a couple airplane rides recently. Sandwiched in between those two airborne excursions was a visit to the nation’s capital and the memorials to those who served during our nation’s military conflicts.
He and Don Gaier of London were two local veterans who recently took the Honor Flight from Columbus to Washington D.C. for a whirlwind day to visit the veterans’ monuments and other sites. Both men came home honored and humbled by not only the trip, but also impressed by the effort exerted to make the trip possible for them at absolutely no cost.
They were blessed with a beautiful day. A luxurious motor coach carried them throughout the tour of the various monuments in the district.
“I was humbled and honored to have all of that,” said Wickline, who served in reconnaissance for an armored division in the era of the Korean conflict. His patrols took him along the Czech border during the cold war with the USSR.
“There were a lot of handshakes,” he said. “They sang songs, flags were flying. Kids and grown-ups wanted to shake your hand.”
Servicemen throughout the years looked forward to mail call. One by one their names were called out and they received letters from school children who wrote thank you notes for their years of service to our country.
They were also given mementos from the trip.
“It was quite thrilling to me,” Wickline said. “I didn’t expect to have all that done. It was an honor to see it and have that experience.”
Gaier, of London, described himself as “not a hero.” He stated matter-of-factly his stint in the U.S. Army in 1954 and 1955 was not a combat role.
“I got drafted, did my two years and got out,” he said. He was stationed in Germany and mustered out as a corporal. He has an older brother whose military career took him to the rank of “full bird” colonel.
Gaier noted sometimes at home big brother would “pull rank” on him if he wanted the corporal to exit the easy chair and allow the officer to sit there.
On the honor flight, however, rank was reversed. Gaier said during the fabulous welcome home in Columbus, the jubilant throng stood a two-star (major) general.
As Gaier was pushed in a wheelchair from the tarmac, he took note of the general.
“He saluted me,” Gaier said with apparent pride. “I’ve never had one to salute me first. It was outstanding.”
Gaier admired how well the event was structured and how smoothly in ran on both ends of the trip.
“It was fabulous, couldn’t have been better,” Gaier said. “It was a tremendous effort.”
He admired how all the transport happened seamlessly between the two airports and how uplifting the crowds were as they exited the plane on the return. He estimated one thousand people took part in the late-night welcome home.
The trip was made possible by a donation from fund raising efforts of eighth grade students of Grizzell Middle School in Dublin. Teacher Shawn Kaeser said they began their drive on Veterans Day in 2013 with a goal of $12,000. To earn that sum, Kaeser said, “they did everything.”
That included numerous chores for donations, letter-writing, bake sales and asking for donations. Some publicity brought letters from widows of veterans, who included in their letters donations of $10 or $20 in memory of their late husbands.
Corporations such as Scott’s anted up four-figure donations.
When it was all counted, the students had doubled their goal with $24,000.
Kaeser’s son, Aaron, a 16-year-old Jonathan Alder student, served as a guardian for Wickline throughout the day.
“By the end of the day it was hard to say goodbye to them,” Kaeser said. “It was neat to connect with the greatest generation. It was good for veterans to see that kids still care.”
Dean Shipley can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 17 or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.