Jeff Jardine: Honor Flight is the experience of a lifetime

jjardine@modbee.comApril 7, 2014 

From the emails, voicemails and other sources:

HONOR FLIGHT – Numerous times over the past several years, I’ve written about Honor Flight, the nonprofit program that relies on private donations to send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., free of charge to see the World War II and other memorials, and Arlington National Cemetery.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to experience it personally as a guardian with the group from Honor Flight Northern California, run by Debbi and Tom Johnson of Anderson. My father-in-law, Milton Haley of Stockton, is a three-war (WWII, Korea and Vietnam) veteran who spent 23 years in the U.S. Navy. He was among the 30 veterans selected for this recent trip and, like everyone involved, found it to be an incredibly moving and rewarding experience.

Total strangers when they assembled at San Francisco International Airport on Friday morning, these veterans ranged in age from 86 to 98 and shared the common bond of wartime service that made them instant friends. They told their individual stories during a banquet shortly after arriving in D.C. on Friday night. On Saturday, they visited the WWII Memorial, Iwo Jima, the Lincoln, Vietnam Wall, Korean War, Navy and Air Force memorials.

They were greeted at the WWII Memorial with band music and a large crowd of people – including many active military – who thanked them for their heroism and service as they passed by. They were, and are, heroes and were treated as such.

The vets were given close-up seating at Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Their whirlwind trip concluded when they flew home Sunday.

At each airport departure and arrival, USO volunteers enthusiastically lined up to cheer, offer thanks and to show their appreciation, with the Greatest Generation getting their greatest ovation upon returning to San Francisco. There, hundreds lined the gate area and walkways to shake hands and even give a hug or kiss or two as they headed to the front lobby, to relatives and on home. The moment brought tears to the eyes of many of the veterans, guardians and even some who happened to be in the airport at the time.

And a small world, indeed: The group included McKinley Frost, who taught welding technology at Columbia College and once lived in Sonora across Roselyn Lane from my grandmother, the street’s namesake. He and brother Richard, also a World War II veteran, made the trip together. And the entourage included medical tech Ron Lopez, an Honor Flight NorCal board member and guardian from Modesto who took great care of the vets during the trip.

The organization relies solely on private donations to make the trips possible. As the number of surviving WWII veterans dwindles daily, so does the number of veterans physically able to make the trip. Consequently, Honor Flight’s regional hubs need donations to fund such trips while the veterans are still able to go.

To sign a WWII veteran up for an Honor Flight or donate to the cause, contact Debbi Johnson of Honor Flight of Northern California at (530) 357-3380, email debbijohnson@honorflightnorcal.org or visit info@honorflightnorcal.org. For a listing of hubs in California, visit Honor Flight Network at www.honorflight.org.

FULL CIRCLE – It seemed only fitting that when Richard Ohland of Escalon died March 30 at 84, it would be at Kaiser Modesto Medical Center.

A lifelong Valley resident, Ohland spent decades working the 40-acre ranch where the hospital now stands.

He was part of a family spanning five generations of ties to the land. Ohland helped second-generation owners Martin and Sadie Veneman on the ranch until he and wife Roberta, the Venemans’ daughter, bought it from the Venemans in the early 1970s. The Ohlands continued to work the acreage while raising their own children and staying until they sold in the early 1990s to Ron Malik.

Malik later sold the property to Kaiser for its hospital, where two of the Ohlands’ great-grandchildren were born and where Dick Ohland passed nine days ago after a brief illness.

HEART OF A CHAMPION – Two-year-old Bryant Mordinoia of Modesto was born with a congenital heart defect, the most prevalent type of birth defect. Last year, Stacey Mordinoia, his grandmother, formed a team to raise money for the cause by participating in the inaugural Congenital Heart Walk Sacramento. Organizers hoped to generate $10,000 that first year, she said. But the Modesto-based team Mordinoia dubbed “Heart of a Champion” alone raised $5,500, out of a pleasantly unexpected $30,000 total. This year’s walk, again in Sacramento, will begin with registration Saturday at 8 a.m. followed by the walk at 9 a.m. at Southside Park, 2115 Sixth St., in Sacramento. Mordinoia’s 73-member team leads the fundraising. She said the team will near the $10,000 mark by this morning. To participate or contribute through the local effort, go to Congenital Heart Walk Sacramento, open the page and click on Heart of a Champion on the right side of the page.

NUDE DUDE, THE SEQUEL – My March 27 column dealt with a guy who regularly bathes in the less-than-pure Tuolumne River. Last week, he was cited for two state Fish & Game code violations involving defiling the waterways, a parole violation and a Modesto municipal code no-no prohibiting swimming, diving or bathing in any river, stream, canal or creek within the city limits.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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