Mid-Michigan Honor Flight used Camp Grayling as a hub to take veterans on a trip of a lifetime
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Some veterans who stayed at Camp Grayling last week fought in the most vicious battles in military history while others were war ready and stayed stateside, but all were treated like heroes as they went on the 10th Mid-Michigan Honor Flight.
A total of 62 Honor Flight honorees, 15 guardians who are veterans, and six staff members who are veterans went on the 10th Mid-Michigan Honor Flight, which took the veterans to Washington D.C. to visit memorials created in their honor.
The veterans stayed at Camp Grayling on Tuesday, Sept. 25, flew out of the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City to the nation’s capital the next day, and returned to Grayling and went home on Thursday.
Isaac Fabela, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Army, was among the group of veterans. He marked his 100th birthday this year.
While serving in Europe during the war, Fabela was slated to take part in the D-Day invasion on his birthday on June 6, 1944. He, however, was pulled from the forces who went to Normandy to take France back from the Nazis.
“They pulled me out with six other guys and they took me to London,” Fabela said.
While stationed in Scotland, a mission was also scrapped to take on the Germans in Norway.
“The day that we had a boat ready to go across when we were about to invade Norway, the war was over,” Fabela said.
Eventually, Fabela did make it to Norway, and patrolled the mountains with troops from Scotland and Great Britain. At one point, they did face some Nazi soldiers.
“We went and they had not surrendered yet,” he said. “That’s as close as I got to facing the enemy.”
Fabela took a leave from the Army for three months and came home after he reenlisted and agreed to serve another three years.
“I’m no different than anybody else,” he said. “I went there and did what I was told to do, and I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do.”
He got emotional about going on the Honor Flight while remembering his comrades who were killed in the first waves of the D-Day invasion. His brother, Alejandro Fabela, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II after he was involved with the Civilian Conservation Corp. He then went on to join a U.S. Army Calvary unit in Japan. Alejandro died in a hospital in Denver after the war.
“As far I am concerned, there are more people here that will never be here that deserve more recognition than I do,” Isaac said.
Still, he was honored to go on the Honor Flight.
“I am more than elated because there is not enough thanks to thank everybody for what they’re doing,” Isaac said. “It’s not only for me, but for all these other members of the armed forces.”
Nick Rogers, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, was Isaac’s guardian for the trip.
“I’m extremely happy,” Rogers said. “He’s been the go to for advice. Everybody in town knows him.”
Rogers put up posts on Facebook for Isaac’s 100th birthday, urging people to send him birthday cards. That resulted in him receiving 175,000 birthday cards from well wishers throughout the world.
Rogers said Isaac, who many people refer to as an uncle or grandpa, was instrumental in developing football, baseball, softball and soccer fields for youth.
“He helped organize that years ago,” Rogers said. “He’s just been huge in the community to help volunteer and to do what he can make his town better.”
Gerald Olson, of East Jordan, fought with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was involved in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, one of the bloodiest battles of the war between United Nations forces and the Chinese Communists.
“That was one of the single most deadliest battles in Korea, where we lost 415 men who were dead and wounded in just 14 days,” Olson said. “I was fortunate enough to live.”
Olson said he has been in Washington D.C. for a regimental reunion, but was not ready to go to sites such as the Arlington Cemetery.
Escorted by his son, Allan Olson, Gerald said he was pleased to go on the flight since more World War II veterans are dying and the number of Korean War veterans are dwindling.
“It’s a honor for me to go,” Gerald said.
William Mowery, served with the Navy Seabees in Vietnam, just before the Tet Offensive. The offense “was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968, by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the United States Armed Forces, and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centers throughout South Vietnam,” according to wikipedia.org. The offensive was launched on the Tet Holiday, the Vietnam New Year, when a planned cease fire was supposed to have been observed.
“We just missed it,” Mowery said. “When I came back home, they put me on a guided missile destroyer and I rode that all around the world for two and a half years. It was something to do.”
Mowery said he was honored to go on the Honor Flight and to recognize the names of friends who died on the Vietnam Wall.
“This Honor Flight in one of the greatest things that has happened to me. If feels good,” Mowery said. “When us boys came home from Vietnam, everybody knows how we were treated. This is kind of making up for that.”
Donald Reynolds, of Traverse City, joined the U.S. Army for the Korean War in 1954, when the war was winding down. He had orders to ship out to Japan, but ended up doing maneuvers in the states.
“I would have liked to have been overseas for a little while since the conflict was over,” Reynolds said.
Robert Burroughs, of Kalamazoo, joined the U.S. Army for the Korean War as military units were being built up.
“I learned to drive a tank before I could drive a car,” he said.
Burroughs, whose daughter made arrangements for him to go on the Honor Flight, never made it to Korea, serving all of his time at Fort Knox and Fort Bragg.
“I didn’t get the chance, which was OK with me,” he said. “There are lot more guys around here that deserve this more than me.”
Lewis Maynard, of Traverse City, served as a guardian for the flight. His father, also named Lewis Maynard, flew a P-47 in England during World War II.
“I have a father that has been gone for 10 years, who served in the military,” Maynard said. “I would love to have him here for this event.”
Maynard had no background serving in the military, but was honored to volunteer to help those who did.
“It makes it even that more special, because I owe a thanks to everybody that’s in this room for my existence,” he said.
Maynard used to come to Grayling when his uncle, who served in the National Guard, did his annual training at Camp Grayling.
“It’s way different than it was back then. It’s looks very nice around here,” Maynard said. “It’s a great thing that the military does to put these folks up like this. It gives them a place to congregate before and after. There are a lot of memories that are being shared.”
Gregory Fullerton, a Vietnam veteran from Baldwin, was the guardian for his dad Gene Fullerton, of Luther, who served during the Korean War.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Gregory said regarding the Honor Flight. “I’m glad he got to go. He probably won’t be able to go on too many more trips since he’s almost 87.”
Bob Green, the president elect for the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight Board of Directions, said the organization would like to continue to use Camp Grayling as the hub for its fall flights.
“They’ve bent over backward to provide us with the facilties and everything that we need,” Green said.
Green commended Camp Grayling officials for providing topnotch accommodations to the veterans and their guardians.
“It’s just some really interesting, living history,” said Green, as the veterans were mingling together in a dining hall. “To be able to use this and bring them back on a military base and to get them all together to enjoy brotherhood and sisterhood is just awesome.”