Honor Flight ‘amazing’

Published 9:28 am Monday, September 27, 2010

Being honored for dedication and service may be common practice for some former military personnel, but for two Atmore men, that honor was an “amazing” experience.

John Garrard and Joel Day were honored for their military service during World War II this week with a special trip to tour the monuments erected in their honor in the nation’s capital.

The Atmore men were two of 88 veterans from South Alabama who made the trip to Washington, D.C., Wednesday as part of the Honor Flight program.

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“It was an amazing day,” Garrard said. “It was a very humbling experience. The emotions felt are hard to explain. The experience is just hard to put into words.”

Day said his trip was an experience he won’t soon forget.

“It was just a really good trip,” Day said. “Every moment of the day was good. It was wonderful to see such a big crowd gathered to meet us when we got back to Mobile. I’ll always remember this trip.”

Day’s trip to Washington, D.C., may have been his first to the capital city, but the companion he had for the day will make it more memorable for the Atmore veteran.

Dr. Barry Booth, coordinator for the South Alabama Honor Flight organization, said Day’s guardian for the day marked the first time a state governor had accompanied veterans on the flight.

“Governor Bob Riley served as guardian for Mr. Day,” Booth said. “No governor has ever flown on an Honor Flight before. Having Gov. Riley fly along with this group is unique.”

Day said he enjoyed being able to spend time with Riley during the daylong trip.

“He was very nice and I enjoyed it very much,” Day said. “He’s a talker. It was good to spend time with him.”

Booth said the flights are made possible through donations made to the Honor Flight organization.

“The number of Honor Flights depends on donations received each year,” Booth said. “Donations to assist with costs are always welcome.”

Booth said veteran’s participating in Wednesday flight came from an area south of Montgomery to Baldwin and Mobile counties.

Day served in the U.S. Army for a four-year period beginning in 1942. His time in the service took him to many parts of the world, but brought him right back to Atmore.

“I traveled to a lot of places,” Day said. “I was at the Battle of the Bulge and I was on the English Channel. But, when I got out in 1946, I came back to Atmore.”

Atmore has been home for Day and his wife, Louise, for 63 years having done work including ginning cotton and working at Bateson’s Furniture Company until they closed.

Garrard served in the U.S. Navy for nearly two years having worked on an artillery supply “Victory” ship.

“We left from Camp Perry, Va., and went to San Francisco, Calif.,” Garrard said. “From there we went to Pear Harbor and on to Okinawa. It was an emotional experience, but I am so grateful that I was able to serve my country and our flag.”

While in Washington, D.C., participants in the Honor Flight experience were treated to a tour of the monuments in the area and witnessed the changing of the guards at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“The changing of the guards is something everyone should see,” Day said. “It is an experience I won’t ever forget.”

Sen. Richard Shelby took time from his duties at the capital to visit with the veterans who made the trip.

“The American dream would not be possible if not for the courageous efforts of the men and women of our Armed Forces,” Shelby said.  “In this, the most devastating war the world has ever known, American service members during World War II overcame insurmountable challenges in a fight that covered the expanse of the globe.  From the beaches of Normandy to the sands of Iwo Jima, Americans fought, won, and made a safer world for our children and our grandchildren.  We must never forget that freedom has a very high price – a price that has been paid by our nation’s veterans and their families.  We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.”

To learn more about the Honor Flight program and how to apply as a veteran or guardian, visit the South Alabama division Web site at www.honorflightsa.com. Information concerning donations may also be found at the site.

Atmore resident and WWII veteran Joel Day poses for a photo with Gov. Bob Riley before flying out.|Submitted Photo