Honor Flight Nevada brings war memories to light

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (KOLO) - Twenty veterans make up this Honor Flight Nevada trip to Pearl Harbor. It’s the inaugural trip, and most served in World War II. They come from all walks of life, but together they make up 221 years of military history.

Some served for just a few years, while others made a career out of their service. Some, were there in the places most of us have only read about in history books.

Army veteran Lynn Bradt was on the beaches of Normandy, while Marine Corps veteran Bayne Stevens was witness to the now-infamous flag raising in Iwo Jima.

At the Iwo Jima memorial at Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Base, Stevens said he felt like a hero when he saw the six marines on Mount Suribachi.

“I put my hands on the pole.”

Some veterans, like Gil Sanchez and Bea Thayer lied about their ages to enlist.

All have a story to tell. But on this particular trip, at least three veterans came face to face with the history they helped create.

Sheldon Beigel flew 32 combat missions in a B-17. He was a bombardier, and his service earned him the French Legion of Honor medal.

There’s not much that impresses Beigel, but one sight at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum stopped him in his tracks.

It’s the wreckage of a B-17. Dubbed the ‘Swamp Ghost,' the plane went down in 1942. Currently under restoration, it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars, according to the museum.

“It’s a shame to see her this way,” Beigel said. “You promise me you will fix her up?"

Part of that restoration team is volunteer James Davidson.

“The planes are one thing,” he said. “The planes are the history. But when you can actually listen to the people who created the history. That’s just an amazing thing.”

“I flew as many as ten missions in ten days,” he said. “I’m the last standing member of my crew. Nobody left. I could tell you stories and there’s nobody to say yes or no.”

As Beigel and Davidson talked about the history of the ‘Swamp Ghost,’ across the field in Hanger 37, another veteran is getting a glimpse at his past.

Navy veteran Jerry Edson flew over 200 hours in an SBD Dauntless. The one at the museum is on loan from Pensacola, but seeing his aircraft again instantly moved Edson to tears.

“It was my life,” he said. “Everyday. Had to keep the airplane flying every day. Quite an airplane. See the guns on the back? I flew the rear ones.”

These little reunions are part of what makes Honor Flight Nevada so impactful. It inspires the veterans to open up about their service. Something many are hesitant to do.

“I try to write down some of my history,” Korean and Vietnam War veteran Jack Delaney said. “It seems like you try to put something together and at times it seems like you’re bragging.”

Delaney had maybe one of the most special reunions on this trip. The Navy veteran once again boarded his former ship, the USS Missouri.

Jack Delaney served on five ships during his service, but the ‘Mighty Mo' was his favorite. Perhaps because it gave him a home.

“You never forget your first love,” he said. “I came out of an orphanage, quit school at 17, decided to join the Navy, and never looked back.”

Greeted by the ship’s curator, Meghan Rathbun, Delaney got a special tour of his ship along with his son, Tim, and Marine veteran Ken Santor. During his service, Santor was part of the group now known as the ‘Chosin Frozen’. He remembers seeing the USS Missouri fire her mighty guns during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

As the men toured the deck, the crew berthing areas, and the Captain’s Quarters, Delaney cared about only one thing--how his ship was being cared for.

“You don’t want to come back and see your ship has rust on it,” Rathbun said.

The group swapped sea stories and memories. The famous teak deck, one of the most prominent parts of the conversation.

“That’s a pretty common one because it’s so hard to keep up the teak deck,” Rathburn said.

Delaney knows that all too well.

“I joined the Navy because the ships were clean,” he said. “Then I found out who kept them that clean. It wasn’t fun.”

It wasn’t fun, but it helped shape the man Delaney is today. On the ship is a cruise book from 1952, the year he enlisted. Inside that book, a photo of the R Division and on the very right hand side of the picture is a young Delaney who looks like he should be playing ball with his friends after school rather than fighting for his country.

But the ‘Mighty Mo’ was his home. On her decks is where he grew up.

“All of the sudden you’re not 17,” he said. “You’re a man.”

“He went to war on this ship,” Rathbun said. “That’s not something many people understand except for the guys who went through that with him.”

As Delaney shares his memories, his son Tim listens in. This is the first time the two are on the ship together, and despite a very close relationship Jack has rarely shared war memories with his son.

“It’s pretty heart wrenching for me,” Tim said. “I totally understand things that he went through now. Where he had to sleep, and eat, and shower, I don’t think a lot of people could do that.”

Honor Flight Nevada has special trips planned all year for World War II veterans. If you know any, you can submit an application here.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020