ST. GEORGE — Nine Southern Utah veterans showed great strength of spirit on a trip to the nation’s capital in honor of their military service, organizers said at a welcome home party for the group in St. George Saturday night.
“It’s certainly something I’ll never forget and hopefully something they’ll never forget,” Utah Honor Flight board member David Cordero said of the event.
Utah Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that takes veterans to the District of Columbia to see memorials to their service.
The trips are scheduled throughout the year and include stops at the National World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial and Vietnam Memorial sites. This weekend’s trip also included stops at the Lincoln Memorial and U.S Navy Memorial.
“I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined such a wonderful, wonderful trip. It will live in my heart forever and ever,” Kenneth Bird, World War II U.S. Navy veteran said during the welcome home party at The Falls Events Center in St. George.
Veterans honored at the evening’s event included:
- Kenneth Bird, U.S. Navy, World War II.
- Wesley Craig, U.S. Navy, World War II.
- Leona Marck, U.S. Navy, World War II.
- Orwin Gubler, U.S. Navy, World War II.
- Charles Dominik, U.S. Army, World War II and Korean War.
- Caryl Englestead, U.S. Air Force, Korean War.
- Eugene Gregory, U.S. Marines, Korean War.
- W. Kenneth Orton, U.S. Navy, Korean and Vietnam wars.
- D’Arcy Grisier, U.S. Marines, Korean and Vietnam wars.
They joined 40 other veterans from the Wasatch Front for the three-day trip and were also accompanied by Utah Honor Flight staff and relatives or friends referred to as “guardians.”
Gov. Gary Herbert was also at the U.S. capital for the event.
“He addressed all of the veterans at this event,” Cordero said, “and the trip could not be possible without the funds his office raised.”
Patriot Guard Riders led an escort for the group to the Falls Events Center where they were greeted by a large crowd waving flags of support upon their return to St. George. Members of the Marine Corps League, VFW Vietnam Veteran’s Association, Dixie Wing Utah chapter of the Air Force junior ROTC and the American Legion honored them with standing salutes.
During the welcome home party, the returning veterans were given the opportunity to talk about their experience before the gathered audience.
“This trip back to Washington, D.C., on this Honor Flight was an incredibly heartwarming experience for me,” Eugene Gregory, Korean War U.S. Marines veteran said, adding that his daughter accompanying him on the trip made it even better.
“I also want to take the opportunity to thank all the guardians that accompanied us on this trip,” Gregory said. “They volunteered to do this. They provided wonderful, loving support for all the veterans.”
Among the nine veterans were two women, including Caryl Engelstead, Korean War U.S. Air Force veteran, and Leona Marck, World War II U.S. Navy veteran.
Marck quipped that the men in the group already said everything she had intended to say.
“I mean, that’s these men – they always got to talk in front of us.
“By the way, not one of them offered me a kiss – ‘cause I’d have given it to them,” she said to a roar of audience laughter.
Korean and Vietnam U.S. Marine veteran D’Arcy Grisier said it wasn’t too late to make good on Marck’s offer and stole a quick kiss from her.
Grisier said the veterans were greeted with immense respect at every corner.
“All through the airport, people were lined up clapping, waving – throwing kisses … every place we went, we were well-received.”
Having already served over 1,000 veterans, Utah Honor Flight organizers said the program will continue in a race to honor as many of the state’s veterans as possible.
“Our priority remains World War II veterans and Korean War veterans and Vietnam veterans who are maybe in poor health,” Cordero said. “However, we are getting to the point where we’ve taken most of the World War II and Korean veterans who want to go and are able to go.”
Future Honor Flights will likely see more Vietnam War veterans, he said.
“They’re in their 70s, some in their 80s now,” Cordero said of Vietnam War veterans. “They’re not young either, so we’re fighting a losing battle against time.”
The program works on donations and generous volunteer work.
“The reason this kind of program not only survives but thrives is because of this kind of volunteerism,” Utah Honor Flight volunteer Gordon Poppitt said.
Information about volunteer opportunities can be found and donations can be made at the organization’s website, where veteran applications for participation in the program can also be submitted.
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