Sunday, March 14, 2010

Honor Flight vets part of 'Pacific;' splash in D.C.

Story and Photos
New Hampshire Sunday News

Tonight's premiere of HBO's 10-episode miniseries "The Pacific" is the latest cinematic offering by executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, a third take on the bloody battles of World War II and companion film to their previous collaborations, "Saving Private Ryan," and "Band of Brothers."
On Thursday, when Spielberg and Hanks addressed 250 veterans from around the country at the memorial constructed in the vets' honor, 35 New England veterans were there, including five from New Hampshire. It was a journey made possible thanks to HBO's urge to make a meaningful splash, and to Honor Flight Network, a remarkable national effort that has flown more than 40,000 WWII vets to Washington in the past five years, for a proper thank you.
Joe Byron of Hooksett, founder of the Honor Flight New England chapter, and his volunteer board had only about a month to organize the two-day trip, which was all expenses paid by HBO.
Byron's now seen to it that 142 local veterans have made it to see the World War II Memorial. With a waiting list of well over 300, Byron is doing his best to schedule 10 flights this year. He has enough in the donation till for about two flights, even though there are already five on the calendar.
He hopes the national exposure this week will increase awareness of the urgent need for donations, as veterans from that era are dying at a rate of 1,100 each day.
James Goins of Portsmouth was thrilled to get the call about the trip. He survived the war and went on to retire from the military in 1971. Surviving cancer is his current mission. He spent much of the trip taking it easy, suffering from fatigue and upset stomach. One of the younger veterans on the trip, Goins was 15 when he volunteered for service in 1943, slipping through a huge military crack that, in wartime, was enlisting most any able-bodied male who could vouch for himself.
"I had an older brother already in the Army, and I just wanted to be there, too," said Goins. "I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was. I just knew I wanted to be part of it."
Whereas most Honor Flight trips are whirlwind one-day affairs, corporate sponsorship allowed for bells, whistles and fanfare this time around.
At Boston's Logan Airport, New England veterans were whisked through security to a double line of American flags leading to a room jammed with family, friends and strangers, all waving flags and cheering. The U.S. Air Force Band of Liberty, from Hanscom Air Force Base, played on as cake was served and tears flowed.
Paul Lindstrom of Hampton was there to see off his dad, Ed Lindstrom, whose personal story is as compelling as any character Spielberg or Hanks could conjure.
"My mother was engaged to his best buddy, and he had to break the news to her, that (the buddy) was killed when their ship was sunk. That's how they got together," said Paul Lindstrom. It was a marriage that lasted 62 years. "There's a reason for everything," Lindstrom said.
The group flew into LaGuardia Airport, picking up an Honor Flight group based in New York, then on to Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, where the call had gone out to all active-duty military and the public in general to come and welcome the fleet of chartered Honor Flights arriving all day.
Robert Curtis of Bar Harbor, Maine, walked slowly under the archway of yellow balloons that led to a path lined with supporters that snaked through the terminal as far as the eye could see, all the way to the tour bus waiting to take the vets to the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Va.
He tried to take it all in.
"I've been to a lot of conventions, seen a lot of things, but I've never seen anything like this. It overwhelms me. Really brings a tear to my eye," he said, shaking endless hands attached to strangers, each one leaning in close to thank him, personally, for his service.
"You spend a lot of years thinking about those days, and then you get to an age where you start to wonder if it mattered all that much. We never knew how much we did, until now; now we know. This is once in a lifetime, for me. It has restored my sense of how great this country really is," said Curtis.
The climax of the trip came at the memorial, where Spielberg and Hanks spoke about the why of their movie-making efforts. For Spielberg, it's personal. His father, 93-year-old Arnold Spielberg, is a WWII veteran.
"With each passing generation, more and more people are forgetting about World War II," Spielberg said. "This is why I made 'Saving Private Ryan.' This is why Tom Hanks and I made 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific,' because all of you are the greatest stories ever told, and we are honored to be able to tell these stories to our kids, to your grandkids, your great-grandkids and the world at large. We celebrate, we commemorate, we memorialize your stories so the world you saved will never, never forget you."
For more about Honor Flight, visit; write Honor Flight, P.O. Box 16287, Hooksett, NH 03106; or call 518-5368.