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Local veteran attends Honor Flight

They ranged in age from 61 to 94, and served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

And for more than a 24-hour period that begin at 2 a.m. Friday and ended shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday, the 34 veterans and their guardians were honored participants in the Covington Region Honor Flight’s trip to Washington, D.C., where the itinerary included stops at the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial, the U.S. Air Force Memorial, and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

It was the CRHF’s eighth trip to Washington.

O.J. Blount, 92, served in the military during WWII and also in the Korean conflict. He was the only one on the Honor Flight from Escambia County.

He was living in Arkansas when he was drafted into the U.S. Army, at the age of 18. After training, he was sent to Germany where he was like a fish without water. He grew up, the son of a sharecropper, and had never owned a pair of shoes. He was one of seven children.

“I was 6 feet tall and weighed 120 pounds,” he said. “I tried to get work as near as I could to where the food was. I learned to make all sorts of dishes to serve. I used the leftovers to make something else, like bread pudding.”

Blount returned to Arkansas after his service, bringing a new wife. He stayed in the reserves, and soon found himself serving in Korea in the U.S. Air Force.

He was in the military for 30 years. Later, escaping cold weather, he moved to South Alabama in 1980. He found a new passion of raising honey bees and doing his part to see that the honey bee gets the praise it deserves.

He found out about the Honor Flight several years ago, and planned to go, but circumstances prevented it from happening. This year everything worked out, and he, along with his wife, Lucy, made the trip.

“We did a lot of things in a short time,” Blount said. “But it was worth it all. I am so glad I came. My next birthday I’ll be 93 years old. I’m glad I made it for this trip.”

There were 34 total veterans on the trip Friday.

“It was the highlight of 75 years on earth,” Bennie Bell Jr. of Prattville, who served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, said. “All of my family except one brother and two sisters served.”

Aside from Blount, who served in both WWII and Korea, Lonnie Starr of Hartselle was the only veteran of Korea to make this trip.

“I really liked the trip,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed everything except not getting to go to the Korean Memorial. I also got to spend some quality time with my son.”

His son, Robert Starr, served as his guardian for the trip. The Korean War Memorial was closed briefly Friday after a suspicious white powder was found there.

Vietnam veteran Michael Crow said the Honor Flight trip was his first visit to Washington, D.C.

“What I really liked best was Arlington Cemetery,” he said. “The silence, the respect everyone shows that was really impressive.”

Crow, a Navy veteran, lives in Montgomery.

Jon Riedel, who served in the Air Force in Vietnam and currently lives in Niceville, said the trip was well planned and organized.

“It was an exceptional experience, especially this greeting at airport,” he said.

The former soldiers received a standing ovation as they walked through Reagan National Airport.

“There was not a dry eye in the place,” Kendra Majors, CRHF board chairwoman said.

Pete Peterson of Niceville, who also served with the Air Force in Vietnam, said the highlight for him was the changing of the guard at Arlington.

Representatives of Congressman Bradley Byrne’s office met the veterans at the World War II Memorial, and representatives of Congresswoman Martha Roby’s office joined the group for dinner.

“We had an awesome group of veterans,” Majors said. “The welcome the veterans received at Reagan National Airport was moving and second to none. It was heartwarming and chilling to see our veterans get so much respect.”

The group plans another trip in the next 18 to 24 months.

Donations are sought for the next Flight. For more info, call Majors at 251-867-4876.