Tinker 'honors' Oklahoma veterans

  • Published
  • By Darren D. Heusel
  • Tinker Public Affairs
"We can't all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by. - Will Rogers

"God is good."

So says Jimmie Key, of Tulsa, who was one of 81 World War II and Korean War veterans who, along with dozens of Airmen and Sailors from Tinker Air Force Base, took part in Oklahoma's latest Honor Flight festivities last week.

Mr. Key, 84, and the other veterans had just returned to Oklahoma City on a chartered flight from Washington, D.C., having completed a 19-hour whirlwind trip to the nation's capital to visit memorials built to honor their service.

Soon after their arrival at Will Rogers World Airport, Mr. Key recounted a trip filled with gratitude some 70 years after the end of World War II and his time spent in the Army during the Korean War.

Mr. Key went to basic training and leadership school at Camp Roberts in Central California. After taking a plane to Sasebo, Japan, and a train to Pusan, Korea, Mr. Key was assigned to the 15th Infantry, 3rd Division.

But the day before he was to report to the front line, he was placed on KP (kitchen patrol) for a second straight night.

"When we got off KP, several of us put our pup tents (shelter halves) together," Mr. Key recalled.

The next day, Mr. Key said he reported to his company and was going about his business when a man came by yelling out his name.

"I'm Key," he shouted, springing out from under his tent.

"Can you type?" the man asked.

"Sure I can," Mr. Key said.

The man told Mr. Key to grab his duffle bag and follow him.

"What about my rifle?" Mr. Key asked the man.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "We'll get you another one, if you need it."

Mr. Key said he spent the remainder of his time overseas as a clerk "typing my way across Korea."

But, he said, "My buddy I left on the front line was killed that night."

"God is good," he continued. "He took care of me that night and has been taking care of me ever since."

Mr. Key's story of his service to his country was one of many shared over a two-day period, as hundreds turned out Sept. 15 for a patriotic sendoff reception at Rose State College and Sept. 16 at the airport for their emotional homecoming.

"This (trip) is an experience I won't soon forget," Mr. Key said. "I thank the good Lord for keeping his hand on me."

The homecoming, which included dozens of uniformed and civilian Airmen from Tinker, a small orchestra from the Sunny Lane United Methodist Church of Del City, members of the OSU softball team and Noble Bears football team, was just one of many receptions the veterans would receive on this day.

"I tell you what," Mr. Key said, chest and eyes swelling. "We ran into receptions like this everywhere we went. I haven't received this type of appreciation my whole life like we've had today."

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Sammy Tucker, who attended the reception and the homecoming, said he was very impressed, and moved, by both events.

"My dad was a WWII veteran, but spoke very little of his experiences until I was an adult," said Chaplain Tucker, who was joined at the homecoming by his own son, Matthew, and other members of the Tinker Chapel family.

"He is a Purple Heart recipient," Chaplain Tucker went on to say about his father. "So, to be there with men and women who had defended our nation, the world, from the tyrannies of their day as my dad had done was more important than I have words to express."

Oklahoma's 21st Honor Flight began with the reception at the Hudiburg Center, where several of Tinker's Airmen and Sailors served as escorts for the veterans, which included 55 from WW II and 26 from the Korean War.

The veterans were escorted into the auditorium by Tinker personnel and by members of the Mustang High School FCCLA. Members of the Carl Albert High School and Choctaw High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps formed a saber arch at each end of the auditorium for the veterans to enter through.

Each veteran was introduced one by one -- along with a brief description of their service -- to thunderous applause. One veteran, Jim Noble, of Alva, was on a landing craft at D-Day and another, Marine veteran Paul Branson, of Oklahoma City, was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona when Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor.

"I am grateful to have had the opportunity to honor these amazing veterans," said Col. David Gaedecke, 552nd Air Control Wing commander, who attended the reception, along with several other Tinker senior leaders and some spouses.

"I am proud to follow in their footsteps of service to their country," Colonel Gaedecke added. "I continue to be impressed how our local Oklahoma community supports our military community with such enthusiasm."

While in Washington, three members of Oklahoma's Congressional delegation -- U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford and U.S. Rep. Steve Russell -- greeted the veterans, ages 82 to 95, and their volunteer guardians clad in red polo shirts sporting the Honor Flight logo.

After arriving in Baltimore around noon, a police escort hurried them to the WWII Memorial, the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials and Lincoln Monument, before a visit to the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial and a drive-by of the Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon.

They were also on hand for a changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

State Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, and his wife, Linda, head up the state's non-profit organization, with oversight provided by the Oklahoma Honor Flights' board of directors. The couple has taken more than 1,900 men and women veterans to the capital, with the next trip for 82 veterans scheduled for Oct. 21.

Oklahoma Honor Flights was organized in the fall of 2009 as an official affiliate of Honor Flight Network Inc., based out of Springfield, Ohio. Oklahoma became the 31st state to form an organization to support the national effort.

Honor Flight Network took its inaugural flight in May of 2005. They took six small planes and carried 12 World War II veterans to their memorial in Washington.
By the end of 2014, 138,817 veterans nationwide have been transported on Honor Flights from 134 hubs in 42 states.

"Unless someone acts on their behalf, our World War II veterans were not going to see the memorial built to honor them," Rep. Banz said.

Since its inception, Oklahoma Honor Flights have departed from Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton. Cost is about $107,000 per trip, none of which is paid by the veterans. Guardian caregivers are asked to donate what they can to accompany a relative or a veteran paired with them.

"This Honor Flight is one small way to recognize you," Linda Banz said.