Tyler resident Marvin Dees worked on airplanes for more than three years while serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
But on Thursday, an aircraft far more advanced than one he ever worked on will take a memorable place in his aeronautical history when it whisks him and 29 other World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., as part of the seventh Brookshire’s Heroes Flight.
Dees, 97, has the distinction of being the oldest vet to make the journey.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Dees said. “I’ve never been there, and this will be the last chance I have, I’m sure.
He said he looks forward to spending time with fellow World War II veterans and celebrating the National World War II Memorial, the trip’s centerpiece.
While there, the group will get a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol courtesy of U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler.
The whirlwind trip also will include visits to Arlington National Cemetery and memorials to the U.S. Marines, Navy, Air Force and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The group also will stop by the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and Air and Space Museum.
“I just hope the weather is suitable, and that we all stay well, with no accidents, and everything goes through as planned,” Dees said.
Rebecca Sanders, Brookshire’s public relations director, said 195 World War II veterans have made the trip since Heroes Flight was launched in spring 2010. The new group will bring that total to 225
“It keeps getting better and better in that we’re increasing the number of veterans who are seeing the memorial that was built in their honor and to memorialize those who gave their lives during World War II,” Ms. Sanders said.
Brookshire’s launched Heroes Flight to honor local World War II veterans for their service and sacrifices. The grocery company pays for trip expenses.
Most of the veterans, all in their 80s or 90s, have never seen the World War II memorial, built in 2004. Those leaving Thursday come from throughout East Texas, from communities such as Mineola, Flint, Mount Vernon, Mabank, Sulphur Springs, Palestine, Ben Wheeler, Blooming Grove, Chandler, Canton, Troup, Ovilla, Lindale and Jacksonville.
“As Americans, we owe these men and women a debt of gratitude that can never fully be paid,” said Rick Rayford, BGC president and CEO. “Our company is committed to giving back to local communities, and the Heroes Flights is one of our most rewarding efforts.”
The veterans will leave at 7:30 a.m. Thursday from FRESH by Brookshire’s in Tyler and return about 8:30 p.m. Saturday. The public is invited to take part in the send-off and welcome home celebrations.
Here are the 30 veterans who will make the journey:
J.D. Baumgardner (Navy), Mount Vernon - Went through boot camp at Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho and then received radar training in Bremerton, Wash. Served as a radar man on the USS Natoma Bay (CVE-62). (June 1943 – February 1946) Served in the Army during the Korean War.
Roy Bullard (Air Force), Mineola - Trained at the Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio and then went through gunnery training in Harlingen. Attended bombardier school in Childress and gunnery school in Las Vegas, Nev. (October 1943 – October 1945)
Ed Chapman (Coast Guard), Tyler - Went through training in St. Augustine, Fla. Served on deck and in engine room on the USCGC Cuyahoga (WIX-157) in the Philippines and Pacific Theater. Also spent time in the Caribbean Sea escorting vessels between Guantanamo Bay, Trinidad and Paramaribo. (March 1943 – March 1946)
John Deatherage (Marines), Mabank - Served in the Marines First Division in the South Pacific Theater. Joined the division in Melbourne, Australia, and fought in the Battle of Okinawa. Ended up in Tientsin, China, after the war as occupation troops. (January 1943 – January 1946)
Marvin Dees (Air Force), Tyler - Attended aircraft mechanic school at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls and then went into propeller specialist school at Chanute Field in Illinois. Served as a staff sergeant and airplane propeller mechanic with the 1503d Air Force Base Unit at Hamilton Field in California. (December 1942 – February 1946)
Melvin Elrod (Navy), Tyler - Attended boot camp and corpsman school in San Diego. Served as a medic in a naval hospital. (March 1945 – December 1946)
Bob Finley (Navy), Tyler - Traveled to San Diego, California, for boot camp, then to Bainbridge, Md., for gunner’s mate school. Served as Seaman First Class – Gunner’s Mate on the USS O’Hare (DD-889). (November 1944 – July 1946)
John Flowers (Navy), Flint - Served as a Gunner’s Mate Second Class on the USS Rockaway (AVP-29) during the Normandy invasion and then on the USS Sappho (AKA-38) when they took Marines to occupy Sasebo, Japan. (October 1942 – January 1946)
Doc Fouts (Army), Tyler - Had basic training at Fort McClellan in Aniston, Alab., then went to Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg, Calif. Served in the South Pacific, primarily in the Philippines, and then Korea in the 24th Medical Detachment. (June 1946 – November 1947)
Bob Franks (Merchant Marines and Army, Tyler - Served in Merchant Marines for two years and traveled to Manila, Philippines. Joined the Army in August 1946 and was in charge of a diesel repair shop. (August 1946 – February 1948)
John Glenn (Marines), Tyler - Entered into service in Winnsboro. Served in the Pacific Theater in the Sixth Marine Division as a 60mm mortar man. (1944–1945)
David Gulley (Army), Sulphur Springs - Served in the 161st Infantry Regiment 25th Infantry Division with the Sixth Army combat team in the Asiatic Pacific Theater. Was involved in the Philippine Liberation Campaign, Battle of Luzon and the occupation of Japan. (October 1944 – December 1946)
Jim Humphries (Navy Reserve) – Hideaway - Served in the amphibious force unit in the Pacific Theater. Was a gunner on the LST 807, then volunteered as a medic at Iwo Jima and Okinawa when LST 807 was converted into a hospital ship. Served in the Liberation of the Philippines. (June 1944 – March 1946)
Don Jones (Army), Blooming Grove - Stationed in various camps in Texas, California, Louisiana and New York prior to serving in Europe. Served as a truck driver in the 170th Field Artillery Battalion in the European Theater, specifically in battles on the Rhine and Ruhr Pocket. (June 1944 – May 1946)
Harold Jones (Army), Canton - Stationed at Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells then at Camp Butner in Durham, N.C. Served as a gun crewman in the Fifth Army 85th Infantry Division. Involved in combat in North Apennines, Po Valley and Rome-Arno Campaigns. (March 1943 – December 1945)
Harry Kancyr (Navy), Tyler - Served in the engine room on the USS Chase (DE-158/APD-54). Involved in convoys from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean then patrolled near Okinawa. Received a purple heart. (September 1943–June 1946).
Gordon Kimbell Jr. (Navy), Tyler - Entered into service in Starkville, Miss. Served as a quartermaster on USS Lizardfish (SS-373) during two war patrols. (August 1943 – March 1947).
Wayne Leland (Air Force), Hideaway - Entered into service in Maplewood, N.J. Served as a utility pilot and as an aircraft maintenance officer stateside. (June 1942 – December 1945).
Frank McMullen (Navy), Palestine - Served on commodore staff as a signalman and quartermaster on LST-566, CC-424, and LST Flotilla 35 in the Pacific Theater. Stationed first in San Diego then at Pearl Harbor, Saipan, Okinawa, Philippines, Japan and China. (September 1944 – October 1949)
Cephas Norvell (Army), Ben Wheeler - Entered into service in Lubbock. Trained at Camp Roberts in California then went from the state of Washington to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan. Served in the 720th Military Police Battalion. (January 1945 – June 1946)
Arthur Owens (Air Force), Lindale – Served as mess sergeant in the Fifth Air Force to the 1892nd aviation engineers in the Pacific Theater, specifically in New Guinea, le Shima, and Okinawa. (September 1942 – January 1946)
Mel Rannals (Army), Tyler - Stationed at Camp Robinson in Arkansas then Camp Murray in Washington. Then served as an infantry soldier in the Asiatic Pacific Theater, specifically in the Aleutian Islands Campaign. Later became a noncommissioned officer (staff sergeant) stateside, training new recruits. (September 1939 – October 1945)
John Sawyer (Air Force), Flint – Served as aviation cadet, squadron supply sergeant and base supply sergeant throughout Texas and in Florida, Ohio, Utah and Kansas. (October 1942 – December 1945)
Thomas Shafer (Army), Jacksonville - Was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, then Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells. Served as a private in the 311th Regiment 78th Infantry Division Second Battalion in the European Theater. Saw combat in the Battle of Ruhr Pocket, Remagen, Rhineland, Black Forest and others. (September 1944 – August 1946)
James Shortnacy (Marines), Ovilla - Stationed in San Diego before serving as assistant cook in the Pacific Theater, including Russell Islands, Okinawa and China. (March 1944 – May 1946)
Mike Slezak (Maritime Service), Troup - Served as an engine cadet on MS Esso Bolivar, SS Zoella Lykes, SS Sinclair Opaline. Also served as engineer on SS Robert Dale Owen, T-2 Tanker Chesapeake Capes and SS Santa Barbara. Served in European and Mediterranean Theaters. (January 1943 – May 1946)
Harold Smith (Army), Tyler - Stationed at several camps in the states prior to being sent as a platoon leader to the Pacific Theater for the 77th Infantry Division. The 77th Infantry Division was sent from Okinawa to the Philippines for the initial invasion. Remained in combat there until island was secured. Went to Japan as occupation force. (December 1942 – May 1946)
Jay Spraggins (Army), Tyler - Stationed at Camp Wolters then Camp Joseph T. Robinson and Camp Pickett. Served in the European Theater as a squad leader of a machine gun section in the 78th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Bulge and Remagan. (April 1944 – April 1946)
Warren Trent (Navy), Tyler - Stationed in San Diego, Gulfport, Miss., and Corpus Christi as a radar electronic technician. (May 1945 – July 1946)
Lowell Wood (Air Force), Chandler - Served in the Eighth Air Force Division as lead navigator and group leader for the 525th squadron, then as a deputy lead navigator for the 379th bombardment group. Served in the European Theater, involved in 22 missions over Germany. (May 1943 – October 1945)