Written by: Mary Chartier
This article first appeared on May 20, 2013 in The Villages Daily Sun
SPRUCE CREEK GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB
I have always been in awe of our men and women who serve in the armed services.
The idea that anyone would willingly run towards danger selflessly in the name of others, is to me, beyond heroic.
So imagine how I felt when I received an email from resident Don Lamb asking me to write a letter to a WWII veteran he was escorting on a Villages Honor Flight.
The Honor Flight Network is a national network of non-profit organizations dedicated to transporting as many US military veterans as possible to see their Washington, D.C., area memorials at no cost to the veterans.
Don explained that once the veterans returned to the airport for their journey home there would be a surprise waiting for them at the airport, ‘Mail Call’.
“When a soldier is in a combat zone, the most important thing to him – besides his unit – is mail call, letters from home,” Don explained.
I was honored by the request and set about to do my best to let this veteran know how much his service meant, not only to me, but to future generations.
The letter was for Staff Stg. Douglas Quillen, who served as a flight engineer in the Army Air Corps in World War II on C-46, C-47 and occasionally B-25 aircraft in China, Burma, India and Africa over a period of more than three years.
Once I completed the letter, I asked Don if I could come down to see them return from their big day in our nation’s capital.
I was so glad I attended this joyful celebration.
Randy and I arrived at American Legion Post 347 to bright lights, music, cheering, and hundreds of well-wishers all waving American flags as they waited for the buses to return from the airport.
I was fortunate to meet Fran Into, of the Villages Honor Flight organization who was a fountain of information about the entertainment and how the evening would unfold.
Fran told me that many groups and individuals had come together to make this a wonderful celebration.
On hand were members of Clown Alley 179, the Prime Time Twirlers, the Village Cheerleaders, the Navy R.O.T.C midshipmen from the University of Florida, the American Legion Post 347 honor guard and bugler Ed Wendling of American Legion Post 330 Mid-Florida Lakes, who would be playing taps.
Excitement grew when an announcement was made that the buses were picked up at the Leesburg Wal-Mart by the Village Nomad motorcycle club and would be escorted to the American Legion post.
The excitement grew even more, as the police escort, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, and the Nomads with large American flags flying proudly behind their bikes, arrived at the post.
The fire trucks on hand shot off their water cannons as the buses rolled by in salute to these American heroes.
A very happy and tired group descended from the bus steps, some into wheelchairs, to an to applause, tears, and flags waving.
Each veteran was escorted to their seat to enjoy a short home coming ceremony.
Once the program concluded, I watched as members of the audience walked down the line of seats shaking the hands of each veteran and saying, “Thank you for your service”.
“What did you think of the day’s events,” I asked Douglas.
“I had a wonderful time. I got to see the WWII memorial and, the changing of the guard. All in all it was a wonderful day,” he said smiling.
“Did you get a chance to talk with the other veterans?” I asked.
“Yes, we have had a good relationship. We bonded as brothers,” Douglas said.
“How was mail call?” I asked.
“Great! Some were from congressmen, some from school children,” Douglas said.
Douglas also received letters from Don’s friends here at Spruce Creek, and family and friends from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, and as far away as Thailand.
In the months leading up to the flight, Don and wife Candy met socially with Douglas and wife, Shirley, creating a special bond between the two couples.
“What did you think of Don?” I asked Douglas.
“I just fell in love with Don and his wife, Candy,” Douglas said with a big smile.
I turned my attention to Don and asked what he thought of the day.
“I think it was a wonderful experience,” he said said.
Caption: Spruce Creek Golf and Country Club resident and guardian, Don Lamb, and veteran, Douglas Quillen, seated, are just back from a Villages Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. They are flanked by their wives, Candy, left and, Shirley.