By Mark Schlachtenhaufen For Oklahoma Press Association
Enid News and Eagle
Oklahomans who are part of the Greatest Generation helped the Allies win World War II.
Last week, supporters of Oklahoma Honor Flights thanked about 100 of the state’s veterans for their service and sacrifices, taking these men and women to a city some never had visited and to sights most never had seen, such as the National World War II Memorial.
During the war, these Oklahoma veterans contributed in a variety of ways: as soldiers, sailors, bomber crew members, pilots and combat engineers.
Several Enid and northwest Oklahoma residents went on the flight. They were: Donald Edmonds, Wayne McNeely, Harvey Olson and Kenneth Slack, all of Enid; Howard DeBock, of Mooreland; Lucy Shank, of Seiling; Laroy Goodpasture, of Waukomis; and Calvin Rutledge, of Woodward.
Opened in April 2004, the National World War II Memorial honors the 16 million men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces, the more than 400,000 who died and all who supported the war effort from home. It testifies to the spirit, sacrifice and commitment of Americans.
Surrounded by granite columns near an oval-shaped pool with fountains, Leman Clarkson, 88, of Grove, reflected on his military service. The gunner’s mate served from 1943-46 in the Pacific on the battleship USS Tennessee.
“I maintained the guns in an eight-hour day,” Clarkson said. “There were four turrets on there, two forward and two aft. You kept the inside of the breach free and cleaned them out after each operation. You had to do that while they were still hot.”
Clarkson said when the big guns fired there was a lot of noise on the outside, but he always was inside. It recoiled about 3 feet when they fired the big guns, he said.
“Our job was, when it was taking an island, the Air Force would go in and strafe and bomb first,” he said. “Then we would go in with all the information and we would bombard it with shells that were point detonated.”
He recalled the battleship taking two kamikaze hits. He was on a ship headed toward Japan when President Harry Truman ordered the B-29 Enola Gay to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It did so on Aug. 6, 1945. Another B-29, the Bockscar, dropped the second A-bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15.
Clarkson said heading toward Japan was part of the job.
“Actually, it was just another day’s work,” he said. “You know, when you go in the service that way, you’re taught to do something and you learn to do it well. You’re real good at what you do, and you’re there to do a job. If we hadn’t done what we did, it would be a different world today.”
Clarkson described the memorial as “awesome.” Looking at the names brought back memories, he said.
He said he never really had thought about visiting the memorial, and he appreciates Oklahoma Honor Flights.
Marine Lucy Shank, 90, of Seiling, was a secretary stateside during the war.
The trip made her think of her husband, who died three years ago, and his buddies who were killed in action. She said she enjoyed the trip, which her husband would have liked.
“Keep supporting it because it’s wonderful,” she said of Oklahoma Honor Flights. “I can just see the happiness in some of these men.”
Caesar Latimer, of Tulsa, is a Marine who served in the Pacific, where he was part of operations on Saipan, Iwo Jima, China and Okinawa, among others.
He said he was glad to see the national memorial honoring those who fought at Iwo Jima.
“It was beautiful for me to see that,” he said. “I didn’t think it even existed.”
The Oklahoma veterans visited several other memorials, witnessed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and had a “window tour” of other sights in Washington, D.C.
This was the last Oklahoma Honor Flights trip for 2012. The next flight leaves April 17 from Tulsa. A total of three flights are scheduled in 2013 to honor another 300 Oklahoma men and women who helped change the world.
More than 230 veteran applications were awaiting flights and more arrive each day. As of Oct. 6, Oklahoma Honor Flights had taken 1,005 World War II veterans on 10 flights.
For more information on how to have a veteran go on the trip or to support Oklahoma Honor Flights, call (405) 259-9000, or go to oklahomahonorflights.org.
Schlachtenhaufen writes for the Edmond Sun.