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By Emily Bontrager
The 62nd Great River Honor Flight took place on Thursday, October 13, 2022. Local Vietnam veteran Keith Wilson, 74, was selected to visit Washington, DC, where he had the opportunity to visit many of the nearby monuments and war memorials.
Keith was accompanied by his son Chauncey Wilson, 46, who served as Keith’s guardian for the trip.
Keith grew up southwest of Kahoka, Missouri, and his parents were Hugh and June Wilson. He attended school in Clark County and after graduating, Keith went to a trade school in Quincy, Illinois where he studied welding.
In 1967, Keith was selected to serve in the United States Army, but he decided to pursue a different path.
“I had my papers, and the Army was wanting me, but I said no and joined the Navy,” Keith explained.
Keith’s father, Hugh, previously served in the United States Navy in World War II.
Keith completed his basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois.
“My home base was in Sanford, Florida originally. They flew us from there to San Diego and that’s when we got onto the USS Constellation,” Keith said.
For nine months, Keith was on the aircraft carrier. His job on the aircraft carrier was to take care of the hydraulic systems on the airplanes. In November of 1970, Keith was honorably discharged from the United States Navy. He then served in the Inactive Reserves for two years.
The first time Keith heard about the Great River Honor Flight was a few years ago from one of his friends.
The Great River Honor Flight selects veterans on a first come, first serve basis. Each veteran travels with a group of guardians, who help assist the veterans during the trip. The guardians pay for their own travel, but the veterans get to travel for free.
A total of 29 veterans from Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa were able to embark on the October 13th flight. There were also 28 guardians, three staff members, and medical personnel who flew with the veterans on the flight.
On Thursday morning, all of the veterans traveled from Hannibal- LaGrange University to the St. Louis Lambert International Airport where they boarded a plane and flew to the Baltimore Washington International Airport.
Keith’s son, Chauncey Wilson, assisted his father on the trip and went as Keith’s guardian. According to Chauncey, the trip marked over 2,000 veterans that had traveled to Washington, DC on the Great River Honor Flight.
“My job was to make sure the veterans were doing okay and that no one got lost. We had 18 wheelchairs that we had to make sure to get on and off the bus or the plane,” Chauncey stated.
Keith was the one who asked Chauncey, his oldest child, to accompany him on the trip to DC and he is grateful that they were able to spend the day together.
After arriving in DC, the veterans were able to visit the Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, World War II Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Navy Memorial, and Air Force Memorial.
“We also went to Arlington and watched the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknown,” Chauncey said.
It is hard for Keith to pick out which memorial he liked seeing the most, but one of the memorials holds a special place in his heart.
“The Iwo Jima Memorial was pretty special because my father-in-law witnessed the raising of the flag,” Keith explained.
For Chauncey, witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was very humbling and it struck him the most.
Keith did not know any of the other veterans that went on the flight, but he did get acquainted with some of them when they were visiting the memorials.
The same day the veterans visited Washington, DC, there was also another Honor Flight with veterans from Alaska.
The one thing that Keith and Chauncey want people to realize about the Great River Honor Flight is there is a lot of time put into organizing these trips to DC.
“The one thing that stuck out to me, is with the Great River Honor Flight, people don’t realize the time, effort, and what the people who put this on put into it. They take their own time, and it is unbelievable what they do for these veterans,” Chauncey said.
“The people who put this on do not receive the recognition that they deserve to take these guys out there and honor them that day. It is amazing.”
After flying back to St. Louis Thursday evening, the veterans loaded up on buses to go back to Hannibal. On the way back, the veterans all received mail from kids across the United States thanking them for their service. The mail also contained letters from the veteran’s families.
Each one of us had a little bag of mail and kids from all over the country colored little pictures and wrote notes. All of my grandchildren had something in there and I was really surprised,” Keith said.
“All of the guardians had jobs. Carlos Fernandez is the coordinator and he contacted all of the guardians and our job was to get letters for mail call. Personally, I just had all of his grandkids write a letter to him,” Chauncey said.
As the buses arrived at Bowling Green, the veterans were escorted back to Hannibal by a group of motorcycles. When the veterans arrived at the college in Hannibal, they were all recognized and greeted by family, friends, and other veterans. Each veteran received a plaque, a quilt, and other gifts.
Keith recommends that other veterans go on the Great River Honor Flight if they are able to.
“It is well worth the trip and time spent,” Keith said.
“He had never been to Washington and neither had I, so it was a great opportunity to be able to go,” Chauncey added.
Chauncey recommends that people should donate to this great organization. We should try to help this organization in any way we can, so we thank the veterans for their service to our great country.
For more information about Great River Honor Flight, you can visit their website greatriverhonorflight.com or contact Carlos Fernandez at email@example.com. Applications are available for veterans and guardians on the Great River Honor Flight website.