Warren Norton of The Dalles served the citizens of the United States as an Army soldier in Europe during World War II and late last month a few of those citizens had a chance to say thank you in Washington, D.C.
Norton, 93, was one of 50 veterans who joined an Honor Flight of Eastern Oregon trip organized and paid for by the Bend Heroes Foundation. The trips are part of the national Honor Flight Network, which takes World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., free of charge for a four-day trip to visit their national World War II Memorial, the White House, the Capitol, the Tomb of the Unknowns and other attractions.
Honor Flight may be familiar to some after reading reports this week about a group of veterans from the Mississippi branch, who tore down barriers to visit the Washington Mall after it was closed due to the government shutdown.
Each veteran has an assigned “guardian” to look after his or her needs during the trip. Norton’s daughter-in-law, Kathy Norton of Klickitat, served as his guardian.
“The highlight of the trip was her granddaughter [Warren’s great-granddaughter],” Warren said. Juliet Drew, 7, and her mother, Jackie Drew, who both live around Washington, joined the group for its four-day stay. “I had three women looking after me.”
“The more the better,” Kathy said the organizers told her.
Asked what he liked best among the attractions, Warren said, “MLK, it was large and all white stone. And Roosevelt — I have more of a connection to that one. And the Vietnam Wall.”
Kathy helped Warren find the name of a man who used to work with him and later died in Vietnam.
At the Tomb of the Unknowns, “it rained cats and dogs,” Warren said.
Kathy was struck by the solemnity of the ritual and how the veterans remained still throughout, despite sheets of rain.
Most of the Oregon veterans present had served in the Pacific Theater.
“There were only three who knew anything about what I know about,” Warren said. “One was a bombardier that I talked with. I knew about some of the raids he had made.”
Warren was “D-Day-plus-3” at Normandy, arriving three days after the beaches were stormed.
He was a heavy equipment operator in ordnance.
He tells a story of hauling General Eisenhower’s trailer to Paris.
“In Paris there was a real bad storm and some of the boys slept in it,” he said. “Eisenhower would not have anything to do with it after that because enlisted men had slept there. But when we captured a German train that had Hitler’s living quarters, he moved right into that.”
Warren also served in Belgium, the south of France and Austria.
“I pretty well covered Europe,” he said.
He said he was bombed only a few times, once in particular in Antwerp, Belgium, by a German buzz bomb.
He didn’t make a lot of friends during the war, he said. “You’d never know how long you would have them.”
Warren lost a brother, Roy, a highly decorated soldier, in the South Pacific during the Battle of Luzon.
Kathy had heard about the Honor Flights from the president of the Mississippi group, the same group that tore down the barriers. The woman grew up in Klickitat and Kathy had seen photos of the flights on her Facebook page.
They spent the night Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the Shilo Inn in Portland, one of the flight’s big sponsors, then headed to the airport early the next day. At a stopover in Chicago, the group was greeted by flight attendants dressed the style of 1940s stewardesses, with seamed stockings and high heels.
“They did an amazing job,” Kathy said, praising the Bend group’s leaders Eric Tobiason, president, and Yvonne Drury, secretary. “You put in your application and they put the flights together first-come, first served.”
The entire trip is free for the veterans. Their guardians pay their own way, but at $1,200 for the entire trip, Kathy felt that was more than reasonable.
The guardians have specific instructions on how to care for their veteran — not to leave them alone, to precede them going down stairs and follow them going up. After many such trips, the organizers know the logistics and how to minimize safety risks, Kathy said.
During their first day in Washington, the veterans were greeted by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and representatives from the staffs of senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
“A lot of things happened that kind of choked me up a little bit,” Kathy said, noting the respectful and appreciative greetings the veterans received from people visiting Washington from around the world, including an Italians, Australians and even a Frenchman whose family had been involved in the French Resistance. The Germans were most emotional, Kathy said.
“They were very emotional,” she said. “There were a lot of old folks who came by with interpreters and cried and hugged and kissed.”
The Bend Heroes Foundation is already working to plan its next Honors Flight. Almost 90 percent of the World War II veterans who survived the war have died in the 66 years since, the group’s website said. Almost 1,000 more die daily.
“Our objective is to take all WWII veterans who apply for Honor Flight and live east of the Cascades to Washington D.C. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE,” the site said.
Kathy and Warren Norton hope more local veterans learn of the Honor Flights and have the opportunity to participate.
“If even one veteran gets the chance to go because of this story, it will have been worth it,” Kathy said.