Three WWII veterans from Wellington, made the journey to Washington D.C., to see the memorial that was built in their honor.
WELLINGTON, Kan.—Three WWII veterans from Wellington, made the journey to Washington D.C., to see the memorial that was built in their honor. The trio was part of a group that took part in an honor flight that left Wednesday, June 25 and returned Friday, June 27 to a hero’s welcome.
“I didn’t get that kind of reception when I came home from war,” said Ted Davis, 91-year-old Navy veteran. “Back then, they gave us eight dollars and a train ride as far as Enid, Oklahoma. I hitch-hiked home from there.”
Well over one hundred people packed into the Dwight D. Eisenhower Airport, in Wichita, to welcome the men home. Children, grandchildren, and some great-grandchildren, along with friends and Wellington residents, waved flags, held up signs, and cheered as the men made their way down the ramp. Soldiers from McConnell Air Force Base saluted the men, as a bag pipe player led the way.
“This trip that we went on,” said Richard Lemaster, 88-year-old Merchant Marine veteran. “People don’t realize what it meant to the people who were there, who served.”
The honor flight took Davis, Lemaster and 91-year-old Army veteran Holland Creed to our nation’s capital, along with about 27 other veterans, to see the war memorials, lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and raise the flag at Fort McHenry.
“I saw things on this trip I didn’t figure I would ever see,” said Creed. “I enjoyed the WWII Memorial. It was mighty nice.”
Built mostly with donations, the WWII Memorial is located between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. It honors the 16 million who served during WWII and those who supported the war effort from home. First opened in April of 2004, the memorial features two 43-foot arches, a 17-foot pillar for each state and territory from that period, and more than 4,000 gold stars, one for every 100 Americans who died in the war.
“You can’t believe how big a wall it is or how many stars there are on it,” said Lemaster. “Of course, it is something most of us who served, will never see.”
They won’t see it because we are in the twilight of the greatest generation, with WWII veterans dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day. Men like Holland, Davis, and Lemaster, who all have a different story to tell.
Holland Creed joined the Army in 1943 and was shipped off to war in 1944. He served in the South Pacific, specifically the Phillippines.
“There’s things I saw that I won’t ever talk about,” said Creed.
Creed, who served the 24th Division out of Hawaii, says he took care of men who had been shot at. At just 21-years-old, he saw men severely wound, and other men die.
“I was afraid when I got over there. Like a lot of others, scared to death,” said Creed. “But it is something you had to do. You didn’t want to be there, but you were there anyway.”
Creed had reason to be afraid, more than 74,000 Americans were killed or wounded in the South Pacific, during WWII. When the war was over, Creed did what many other soldiers did, he came home, and quietly, went back to living his life. He went on to have children, including a son who is not a Vietnam veteran, and grandchildren. His family says they have never heard him talk much about what he experienced during the war.
“I served aboard an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific,” said Ted Davis. “We were caught in the Leyte Gulf when the Japanese fleet was in the Phillipines and they sunk two ships from our group.”
Ted Davis was 19-years-old when he enlisted in the Navy and went to war. Before that he worked for Beech, building bomber sections. Davis, a pilot, couldn’t fly for the Navy because he is colorblind, so he served aboard an aircraft carrier, taking care of the planes.
“Landing on those carriers was pretty dangerous,” said Davis. “We lost a lot of pilots.”
Davis says he would be assigned one plane, and one pilot, at a time, to take care of. During his service he says lost three planes, and one pilot.
“He was just a young ensign named Penny. He was coming in on a streaking run when the Japanese opened fire,” said Davis. “He didn’t make it.”
There were 32 planes on the ship, Davis says when one was shot down, another would just take its place. Had he been able to fly, chances are he might have not made it home.
It was while he was serving that Davis earned the nickname “High Diving Davis.” A nickname that has stuck with him, his entire life.
Davis says to pass time, the men on the ship would play “football” on the flight deck, which was as long as two football fields. He was running backwards for a pass when a comrade bumped into him. Davis lost his balance and went overboard.
“They rang out ‘man over board’ and someone threw a flare in the ocean to mark me,” said Davis. “But they couldn’t stop to get me because of all of the enemy submarines in the area.”
Davis was left in the water, with just his head sticking out, holding a flare, waiting to be rescued. He says it is funny now, but it wasn’t funny then.
“It was dark,” said Davis. “Without the flare they never would have found me. I would have been lost.”
Another ship in Davis’s fleet stopped to pick him up. He admits now, he was lucky. He went on to face many other dangers while serving aboard the ship.
“There were a lot of suicide bombers at the end of the war and we had two hit us,” said Davis. “We were shooting at them as they came in, so they were probably dead before they hit us.”
Davis came home from war in 1946, married, had a daughter, and grandchildren. He says he has had a good life.
Richard Lemaster graduated high school in 1943 and joined the Merchant Marines when he was just 17-years-old.
“I left home on January first, 1944,” said Lemaster. “I was on the U.S.S. Mariposa.”
The Mariposa was originally a cruise ship that was converted to carry troops and supplies during the war. The ship, and Lemaster, spent most of WWII in the South Pacific.
“There were a lot of Japanese around, so we would sail at night and go into the harbors in the day time,” said Lemaster. “Four hours after we left India, on Easter Sunday in 1944, the ship that was docked next to us blew up, destroying the harbor and about 25 ships.”
That day Lemaster may have avoided death by just hours. He says the Mariposa was also one of the first ships to go into Japan after the atomic bomb.
“The fallout from the bomb was so bad, they made us turn around and go back,” said Lemaster. “There was still some fighting going on, and everyone was scared when we were around Iwo Jima.”
Lemaster says that for the most part, his ship stayed out of the action. Because of that, and because he was too young to know better, Lemaster says he really wasn’t afraid most of the time. This, despite the fact, that the Japanese had sunk other ships like his.
“We knew there were problems, but we were lucky and didn’t get involved in it,” said Lemaster.
Lemaster returned home in 1946, is still married to his wife Norma, has four sons, and several grandchildren.
“It was quite an experience,” said Lemaster.