Camp Grayling serves as a hub for Honor Flight to honor veterans for their service
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Harold “Tike” Golnick served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was among the first soldiers on the battlefield, while Emma Marie Mahaney patched troops up while serving in the U.S. Air Force nursing corps.
Both Grayling residents were treated like heroes as they went on the 12th Mid-Michigan Honor Flight.
For the second year in a row, Camp Grayling served as a hub for about 60 veterans that went on the flight. They were served dinner and other meals and had an overnight stay in the barracks before flying to Washington D.C. on Wednesday, September 18.
Golnick served with the U.S. Army’s 24th Division as the Korean War got underway.
“I was there seven days after the war started,” he said.
Golnick served 10 months in Korea and another 10 months in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before being discharged. He then went on to serve 29 years at Camp Grayling, retiring as the camp’s command sergeant major.
Golnick said he has been waiting three years to go on the Honor Flight to see monuments built to honor veterans and witness the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery.
“It’s going to be a pleasure to go and an honor to go,” he said. “I want to see all the monuments.”
Mahaney said serving in Korea and Japan during the Korean War was a rude awakening to young adulthood.
“It was horrible. It was war,” she said. “It was a very sad, different life for a young person to see war and the destruction, and horrors that injured young men endured.”
Going on the Honor Flight added to the wonderful life Mahaney has lived after the war.
“I can’t believe that I’m going,” she said. “It’s just wonderful.”
Allen Watts of Grayling served as a sniper with the U.S. Army in 1969-70 during some of the most vicious battles in the Vietnam War. He recalled the training he went through to carry out his missions.
Watts’ daughter served as his guardian on the Honor Flight.
“It’s really something special and it means a lot,” he said.
Arnie Kempton of Big Rapids served eight years with the U.S. Airforce during the Vietnam War. He worked as a medic stateside to prepare airmen for deployment.
“My claim to fame was I happened to working at Edwards Air Force Base when Chuck Yeager was brought in and I sewed up his head,” Kempton said.
Kempton’s son, grandson, and son-in-law served as guardians for the trip.
“It’s quite an honor to go on this flight,” he said.
Robert Harvey of Hale served in the U.S. Navy for 12 years, and was among thousands of sailors who took part in Operation Wigwam, which involved exploding an underwater atomic bomb just off the Coast of San Diego.
“It was sort of scary, but I’m here,” he said. “I loved the 12 years I put and I loved every bit of it.”
Richard French Jr. of Utica was among just over a dozen World War II veterans who went on the Honor Flight last week. He served in the Army Air Corps and trained fellow pilots after earning his wings.
“It’s not what I wanted, but that is what I did,” he said.
French praised the Honor Flight volunteers and others who assisted with the trip to recognize the service of the veterans.
“I’m very privileged. I think it’s a tremendous thing, and I am very grateful,” French said.
Jim McKenzie of Morely served from 1948 to 1960 in the U.S Army as an engineer. He did not make it to the East for the Korean War, but worked on projects in South America, Central America, North America, and Europe.
“That was the best experience, getting to travel around and seeing the world,” he said.
McKenzie said he was no war hero, but appreciated being able to go on the Honor Flight trip.
“I don’t feel I deserve it, but I served during that time,” he said. “I’m just grateful with my health that I’m able to go and I am honored to be able to go.”
Lyle Hanson of Custer served during the Korean War, but was assigned to an infantry band stationed in Germany.
“I was one of the fortunate ones that was never in harm’s way, and I’ll be the first one to admit that, but I served my country,” he said.
Hanson said he would have some tissues on hand as he and the Honor Flight groups goes to the Arlington Cemetery to honor their fallen brothers and sisters.
“It’s an honor and I’m sure I’m going to have a few tears tomorrow,” he said.
Camp Grayling officials and Honor Flight leaders hope to keep a standing relationship, so that veterans can come together and share their camaraderie before and after the flight.
“It’s great. In a lot of ways, they’re kind of back in the military,” said Jim Swoboda, an Honor Flight volunteer from Kentwood. “The barracks are a little more luxurious than they were back then. The vets seem to like it. It works really well and Camp Grayling does a great job.”
Some of the veterans that went on the trip are fighting for their lives.
“We have six Vietnam vets that are terminally ill on this flight, so they get priority,” Swoboda said. “We want to get them there before they’re gone.”
Swoboda has gone on over 20 Honor Flight trips with different affiliations of the non-profit organization.
“All of them are special,” he said.
Quilters from throughout the northern Michigan made custom, patriotic quilts for the veterans as a keepsake from the trip. The quilts came from Delphine’s Quilt Shop in Gaylord.
“Mostly, it is just an honor for their service,” said Karl Schreiner, a Mid-Michigan Honor Flight Board Member.
Jonathan Edgerly, a Mid-Michigan Honor Flight Board Member, praised Grayling High School students for getting the rooms at Camp Grayling ready for the veterans and for cleaning them when the veterans were in the nation’s capital.
“They came out and had everything knocked out within 30 minutes,” Edgerly “That was awesome.”