DIXON – It’s been at least 5 decades since five of the seven Spratt brothers served in the Army, sharing a collective experience with millions of Americans who’ve served before and after them.
Six of the seven Spratts boarded the 48th Honor Flight that took them from the Quad City International Airport to Washington, D.C. The daylong excursion began in the early morning hours of May 30, but the Spratts’ Honor Flight journey began decades before.
Ken, 78, spoke for all the brothers when he said the flight the men took was a “golden opportunity.” Most knew of the Honor Flight before they signed up, but it was important they completed the trip together.
It didn’t take long for the brothers to realize how much work was put into the trip. They were impressed with how well their trip had been planned, and it didn’t hurt they didn’t need to worry about driving around D.C.
“Trying to get us five together, I was wondering how Honor Flight got 150 of us together,” Ken said.
Joining the five veterans was their brother Russ. Russ, 73, didn’t serve in the military, but he was happy to be with his brothers and take the flight as a guardian to assist with veterans who aren’t as nimble as they once were.
“It was interesting to see that these guys had served with each other 45, 50 years ago, shaking hands and slapping each other on the back,” Russ said. “You know, reacquainting themselves a little bit.”
The trip they took would take some at least 2 day, Russ said, but with the assistance of police escorts and driving the wrong way down streets that had been blocked off for the men, they made great time.
The care and coordination put into the trip was not lost on them.
John, 75, said he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial years ago, when there seemed to be less respect for those who served in the war.
He recalled being told in 1966, “it would probably be a good idea to change out of your military clothes before you go out to the airport.”
Taking the Honor Flight and returning to the nation’s capital gave him something he said he felt he had missed for nearly 50 years: appreciation for his service.
“Going there as a group of majority Vietnam vets shined a different light on everything,” John said. “I think the appreciation, the enthusiasm, or sincerity, whatever you want to call it, of the trip made it even more meaningful.”
Ken said in the past, there always seemed to be a division between Vietnam foot soldiers and those who served in other capacities.
During this trip, that division disappeared.
By time the men boarded their flight home after visiting five memorials, the Aerospace Museum and the Arlington National Cemetery, they all stored their favorite moment of the trip in their minds.
For Wayne, it was the beginning of the journey home.
As the plane carrying 103 veterans and 62 Honor Flight guardians barrelled down the runway of Dulles International Airport toward home, Wayne, 80, said he’ll never forget hearing “God Bless the U.S.A.” blaring over the plane’s intercom.
“The pilot threw the throttle forward, we headed down the runway, and they put on Lee Greenwood as loud as it would play ... and they played that whole song.”
HOW TO TAKE THE HONOR FLIGHT
Honor Flight is a national nonprofit network with 131 hubs in 45 states, including Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, which serves veterans within a 75-mile radius.
The program sends WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans on a 1-day, jam-packed trip to D.C., to explore all the war memorials and other attractions, while giving them the star treatment. All veterans are not only welcome, but deserving – even those who did not see combat.
The flights, all funded by donations, are free to all veterans, who are accompanied by volunteer guardians who pay their own way and help the veterans throughout the day.
Whiteside County Honor Flight launched in summer 2009, and the Lee County Honor Flight, chapter a year later.
The local chapters are affiliates of Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, and the flights leave from and return to Quad City International Airport in Moline.
Applications are available from the two local chapters, and veterans can sign up at any time. Priority is given to WWII and Korean War veterans, and to those who are terminally ill.
By the time the plane, bus, fuel and other fees are taken into account, each flight costs about $80,000.
Tax-deductible corporate or individual donations can be made to:
• Lee County Committee of the Quad City Honor Flight, P.O. Box 986, Dixon, IL 61021.
• Whiteside County Honor Flight, P.O. Box 400, Sterling, IL 61081.
To volunteer or for more information on the local Honor Flight efforts, contact Tom Bushman of the Lee County chapter at 815-440-3054, or Gary Farral, firstname.lastname@example.org or Bob Van de Velde, 815-499-6100, for the Whiteside County chapter.
For applications or more information, go to HonorFlightQC.org or to the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities Facebook page or call 563-388-3592.