Honor Flight flies Everett WWII veteran to memorials in D.C.
Freedom Fighters Honor Flight photo
Robert Upton, a World War II Navy veteran from Everett, on Saturday with the Lone Sailor statue at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. Upton joined other veterans on a Freedom Fighters Honor Flight trip.
Freedom Fighters Honor Flight photo
Everett’s Robert Upton (front row, fifth from right in jacket) with other World War II veterans Saturday at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial outside Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
An iconic image of a pivotal World War II battle, the memorial is a must-see outside Arlington National Cemetery. For Upton, the statue was a solid reminder of what he saw firsthand in 1945.
Upton, an 84-year-old Navy veteran from Everett, was aboard the USS Harmon during the historic battle. A destroyer escort, his ship was anchored offshore when U.S. Marines captured Mount Suribachi on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima.
The statue replicates a famous photo by Joe Rosenthal, whose camera caught the second Iwo Jima flag-raising. Upton remembers seeing the first flag raised, a smaller flag.
“We were anchored probably 200 yards off Mount Suribachi,” Upton said. “Marines were climbing up and securing it — secured didn’t mean they weren’t going to get killed.
“Four or five guys had a small flag. They climbed up there and found a pile of rocks. We were all watching,” Upton said. “Every ship started blowing horns. Everyone was just cheering. It only lasted a minute. It was unbelievable.”
That singular memory was one of many triggered by Upton’s visit to the World War II Memorial and other landmarks last weekend in Washington, D.C.
He was one of 10 World War II veterans who made the trip, free, thanks to the Freedom Fighters Honor Flight program. New to Western Washington, the nonprofit organization is part of the national Honor Flight Network that pays to send veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice.
Barbara Schwartz is director of operations for Bellevue-based Freedom Fighters Honor Flight, founded with the help of U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash. The idea was born in Ohio, where a dozen World War II veterans were flown by small private planes on a 2005 trip.
The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly dwindling. Schwartz said some estimates figure the losses at about 1,000 per day.
Upton’s trip, which began a week ago today at Sea-Tac Airport, was the first undertaken by the Western Washington group. Schwartz, 61, served as a guardian.
Veterans or their family members apply for the program, which pays all expenses for a veteran. Upton flew with the others on Southwest Airlines to Baltimore, Md., where they stayed at a Hilton hotel.
Meals were paid for, and boxed lunches provided for Saturday when they toured the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
The program aims to bring veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars on the trips in future years. Applications are considered by seniority, or if a veteran is so ill there is little time left to make a trip.
Upton was amazed that he wasn’t allowed to pay, even for a soft drink. “That’s the policy of the Honor Flight Network,” said Schwartz, adding that guardians pay their own way. With donor-supported trips from Seattle, the cost is about $1,000 per veteran. On the East Coast, Schwartz said, the tours can be done as day trips.
It was a whirlwind tour, with Friday and Sunday spent traveling and Saturday as a full day of sightseeing. Because of veterans’ ages, even some who don’t normally use wheelchairs used them during the tour, as Upton did. “The biggest thing is, no accidents,” Schwartz said.
Back in Seattle on Sunday, the veterans were treated to a reception at the airport’s United Service Organization facility. Reichert was there to greet and thank the veterans.
Upton didn’t know his fellow travelers before the journey, but said the trip became a time for sharing memories.
“We talked a little bit about it,” he said. “It’s something over the years we never said much about.”
After his discharge from the Navy in 1946, Upton worked at a gas station, attended Seattle University on the G.I. Bill that paid veterans’ education costs — “one of the nicest things the government ever did,” he said. He married, had a family and worked as a certified public accountant and as a corporate officer.
After all these years, Upton saw one sight that struck a happy chord.
A Lone Sailor statue at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., wears a look Upton remembers well — the figure has a Navy pea coat, a sailor’s cap and a sea bag.
“I liked this sailor, this tall statue with his sea bag,” Upton said. “I packed a lot in one of those.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out about Honor Flights
Western Washington’s Freedom Fighters Honor Flight program, part of the national nonprofit Honor Flight Network, takes World War II veterans on free trips to Washington, D.C.
Information or to donate: www.freedomfightershf.com
Information on national Honor Flight Network: www.honorflight.org
Or call 425-458-5878 or send e-mail to: email@example.com