At age 84, Larry Johnson still remembers being a young boy while his father was serving in World War II.
But what he remembers even more clearly is what happened about six years later, a week after he turned 17: His father signed him up to serve in the Korean War.
“I’m proud of the three years and 19 days I spent there,” Johnson said Tuesday, sitting in the center of the World War II memorial in Washington, surrounded by its granite pillars. “But I wouldn’t want to go back.”
Johnson – who lives in Modesto – was one of 64 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans who visited the National World War II Memorial on Tuesday. The trip was part of the 11th Central Valley Honor Flight, which provides veterans with trips to visit their memorials in the nation’s capital. Among the group were 12 World War II veterans.
“It made a man out of me,” 86-year-old Robert Quinn of Fresno, an Army corporal during the Korean War, said of his experience. “Being here brings back a lot of emotions.”
After going to the World War II Memorial, the group had lunch at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, followed by seeing the White House and visiting the Korean and Vietnam war memorials – an experience that Central Valley Honor Flight President Al Perry called “the trip of a lifetime.”
Being here brings back a lot of emotions.
Robert Quinn, 86, of Fresno, an Army corporal during the Korean War
To Javier Ortega of Fresno, an aircraft mechanic for U.S. Marine Corps fighter planes during the Korean War, it was nice to see the monuments and honor other veterans – something that he thinks people don’t do enough.
“I was doing this duty for my country,” said Ortega, 84. “And I’m so happy I got to honor my flag. And I hope people wake up and that people respect that flag because there isn’t much respect.”
Johnson, who hadn’t been in Washington, D.C., since 1995, was joined by his son, Gary, who talked about the necessity of appreciating the role veterans have played in history.
“It’s important for younger generations to have people reporting and teaching them about what happened,” Gary Johnson said. “When we’re gone, that’s all they’re going to have. We need to make an effort to understand.”
Ortega said this respect and appreciation could come through reinstating a mandatory draft similar to that of Israel – where men and women serve 32 months if they arrived in Israel before turning 18.
“When you’re young, you think you’re invincible,” he said.
Sitting in her wheelchair, overlooking the memorial, 93-year-old World War II veteran Dorothy Summers of Clovis said it felt “unbelievable” to be a part of the trip, but she wished for a greater sense of acknowledgment from younger generations.
“My generation understood what it meant,” said Summers, one of two female veterans on the trip. “People actually saw what we went through. Now, when veterans are returning home, they don’t get that same recognition.”
But what the Honor Flight members don’t know is the recognition they’ll get after the trip.
“When they get back to Fresno … there’s always a thousand people waiting for them,” Perry said. “And this is what gets to me – there’s not a dry eye on any of them – and (the veterans) say, ‘That’s the welcome home I never got.’ ”
Honor Flight’s return
The veterans will return to Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Wednesday, Sept. 14. They will board Allegiant Air Flight No. 4403 about 2 p.m. at Baltimore Washington Airport and are expected to land in Fresno about 6 p.m. for a “Welcome Home” procession hosted by Paul Loeffler.
The procession is open to the public.