Videographer Elaine Prickett is carefully turning hours of footage of Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico’s Mission 9 into a keepsake video remembrance of the veterans’ tour back to see their memorials in Washington, D.C. The veterans will be honored again this December with a premier showing of their movie and a copy to keep for themselves.
Veterans from three wars, WWII, Korea and Vietnam were honored and thanked from the time they left Las Cruces in a pouring rainstorm early in the morning of September 30th till their sometimes tearful return October 2nd. It takes a lot of travel to get from our little corner of the southwest all the way back to our nation’s capitol. However, the investment of time, energy and months of coordination were worth it. Vietnam veteran Ralph Misquez went again as a guardian, repeating his service last fall to help another veteran make the trip. Over and over HFSNM board members unanimously expressed the thought “It’s a success in my book….if we can help them feel honored!”
Salvador Garcia, a WWII veteran born and raised in Garfield, NM was on the trip this year. He laughed, relating a coincidence, “I met one of the guys who went with us, Mr. Bennett, I told him I’m from Garfield and he goes ‘I’m from Garfield!’” Garcia was drafted in ’44 and inducted at Fort Bliss. He recalls the long travel of that era, taking a train to New York, “From there we boarded the Aquitania, a British ship and landed in Glasgow, Scotland. From there we went by train to South Hampton, England and then on another ship across the channel and that took us longer because of the mines you know. We got to Lherm, France and from there they loaded us up on trucks and I joined my outfit in Northern France, close to Belgium…that’s where I joined the 2nd infantry division…we went back into battle. That was in very early ’45, January ‘cause I remember it was snowing.” He relates his first time in battle, “We were behind this tank, they fired a shot at it. I’d never been behind a tank before. It shook the ground and I hit the ground! The guys that had been in combat they was laughing at us recruits.” Garcia especially enjoyed the Lincoln memorial and the view back down the Washington mall. He was moved and impressed with the 24/7 365 days a year ritual at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Robert Bennett made the trip as a guardian to accompany his father, WWII veteran Owen Bennett. He says, “It was wonderful. It gave me a much deeper respect for our veterans and what they did for us. My father just enjoyed it and the attention and respect that he got from all the people on the trip. And talking with fellow veterans from WWII.” He said the WWII memorial was “fantastic” and felt the Korean War memorial was the most striking. What else stood out to him? “Mail call was something else. Since my dad can’t see very well I had to read the letters to him and I shed a few tears while I was reading those letters. It was just very emotional…I think when he came back he felt much prouder that he served.”
Cali Dominquez, a Vietnam Veteran from El Paso called after the group returned to say “Thank you for a wonderful trip! It was the greatest trip I ever had!” Many of the veterans declared that they want to help get the word out as well as “pay it forward” by donating so others can experience this trip in the future. 101 year old WWII veteran Betty Somppi described the memorials as “very sobering and very beautiful, moving.”
Owen Bennett said, “It was wonderful, there’s a half a dozen words that are just words now, I’ve run out of words…Arlington. The sight of those graves, I’ve seen pictures but… The second thing that highly impressed me was the flag raising statue (Iwo Jima) fantastic. I keep using those excessive words but they’re just….” He served in the army from ’43-’45 in the 87th division of the 346th infantry regiment. He said that later on in the war “they activated a whole bunch of us for combat for the big push. We were sent into that and we had heavy casualties. I worked as a bandsman and was also an infantryman and I did grave registration work. Sorted duffle bags. (To get all the deceased soldiers possessions home). It was very hard.”
Bennett’s quick humor is still much in evidence, “When they ask me what I did in Europe I tell them we were chasing Patton! Let me tell you, that man, it was something to chase, we were a mop up division.” He says, “I feel very honored and I am very grateful for the opportunity and I am very grateful that my son got to see this. This is something extra special for everybody. Pass it on to the rest of the people that have been responsible for this. Thank you very much, every one of you, there are a lot of people behind this thing.”
Planning for next year’s Honor Flight Mission began as soon as the group returned from their mission. Please help spread the word by sharing this news about Honor Flight with your friends and family and encourage them to apply if they are a veteran. You can also help by considering serving as a guardian for a veteran or donating to make it possible for others to go. Applications are currently being accepted for Honor Flight Mission 10 in 2017. More information can be found at www. honorflightnm.org or by calling toll free at: 1-844-697-1590 or writing to the non-profit group at Honor Flight of Southern New Mexico, PO Box 14017, Las Cruces, NM 88013.