Honor Flight takes Basehor veteran to D.C.
Standing in his World War II army uniform in Washington, D.C., 90-year-old Wilbur Grisham was awestruck with what he was about to do.
Kansas Honor Flight, an organization that takes U.S. veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the WWII memorial, flew Grisham to the capital city on Sept. 4th and surprised him with the honor of placing a red, white and blue wreath at the foot of the Tomb of Unknown Soldier — a landmark in the Arlington National Cemetary commemorating the remains of unidentified American soldier from World War I.
“As I stood there, cold chills ran down my back because not many other people, maybe presidents, had ever stood there,” Grisham said. “And now me, a little ex-Kansas farm boy.”
Grisham and another WWII veteran placed the wreath on the tomb, quietly stepped away and saluted.
Kansas Honor Flight has taken seven flights to the nation’s capital carrying the state’s surviving WWII veterans. Grisham was selected for this trip along with 27 other Kansas veterans with the help of a fund-raising by the Basehor Intermediate School’s fifth grade class. The honor of placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier was a complete surprise to him once he got to Washington, D.C., something Mike VanCampen, the president of the organization, planned.
“We keep it a secret from them literally until they get off the bus,” VanCampen said. “Otherwise they get too nervous.”
Of the seven trips Kansas Honor Flight has taken to Washington D.C., only 10 of the veterans selected for the trips have been given the honor of placing a wreath at the tomb, VanCampen said. Veterans are selectedfor the honor, Van Campen said, based on their mobility as the wreath bearers must walk down mroe than 20 steps to arrive at the white marble tomb. Kansas Honor Flight plans to take two more trips east this October and VanCampen said he hopes all surviving WWII veterans in the state, about 100 of them, will have had the opportunity to take the trip. Next spring, the organization will begin taking Korean War veterans and then Vietnam War veterans to the memorial sites in Washington D.C.
“For some of them, I think it gives them closure to what they experienced in life through war,” VanCampen said. “Also, the trip rejuvenates them. They make that adventurous three-day trip and the come back re-energized.”
Kansas Honor Flight allows each veteran one companion for the trip and Grisham chose to take his grown granddaughter Kristi Hinkley. Grisham, who has two sons (both of which served in the Vietnam War) and two daughters, recalled their trip this week at his home off 155th Terrace with a boyish laugh while his wife of 68-years, Betty, looked on.
“She [Hinkley] stood back and laughed at some of the stories being told,” Grisham said. “If you can imagine 28 old veterans together on a trip, some great stories will be told. She had a blast.”
Grisham was an Army medic chief clerk in the 2nd Wounded Office of a hospital in Hawaii. He served more than three years in Hawaii, treating those wounded from the Pacific battle theater. His name is listed on the Honor Roll on the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C..
Also on the three day trip, Grisham visited Ft. McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine where the Star Spangled Banner was written. He visited the Lincoln Memorial and the Battle of Okinawa Memorial. He was the only one of his group to wear his WWII uniform. The others wore red Kansas Honor Flight shirts.
After placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Grisham and Hinkley returned to their hotel on their final night to find a group of young soldiers returned from their deployment in Qatar. Grisham, in his khaki uniform, said he approached the young soldiers and offered to help them with their bags. With that one simple offer, Grisham’s humble nature returned after a trip of awe inspiring events.
“They got a kick out of that,” Grisham said.