WWII veterans 'honored' with trip

by Sonja J. Keith

Two Conway men were among the World War II veterans who were honored Saturday on a special one-day trip to Washington, D.C.

Army veteran Don Dover and Navy veteran Al Hiegel, both of Conway, were among 83 veterans who participated in the “Honor Flight” program, which was created to transport America’s veterans to the nation’s capital to visit memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices.

Sixty-four non-veterans – called guardians – also made the trip, including Don’s daughter, Patti Dollar, and Al’s son, Jerry Hiegel. Eleven staff also attended.

“It was a good, good trip,” said. Don. “It really was.”

The group left the Northwest Arkansas airport at 8 a.m. for the two-hour flight to Reagan Memorial Field in D.C. Boarding three buses, the group arrived at the WWII memorial around 1 o’clock that afternoon.

Don was particularly moved by the sculpted gold stars on one end of the WWII memorial. “When I stood at the wall with 4,000 stars, each representing 100 lives lost…that was the most impressive thing to me,” Don said, fighting back tears.

The group also visited the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the memorials for the Korean War, the Marine Corps and Air Force.

Don Dover (left) and Al Hiegel.

Other veterans from the 501 on the flight were Lawrence Luxon of Fairfield Bay, Lawrence McKellips of Little Rock and Charles Harvey and William Toombs, both of North Little Rock.

Saturday’s flight represented the fifth from the Northwest Arkansas hub of the program, according to Bill McKenzie, trip director. A corporate pilot for Tyson Foods, Bill said 433 Arkansas veterans have been on an Honor Flight. Describing the construction of the WWII monument as “late,” Bill learned about the program and decided to become involved.

“I thought it was something they deserved to see,” he said.

Tyson Foods and The Walmart Foundation have each donated $25,000 toward all five Honor Flight trips from Northwest Arkansas. The total cost of each trip is $65,000. Bill noted that the difference between the corporate donations and the expenses is made up in the $400 that each guardian contributes.

The first Honor Flight took place in May 2005. The organization’s motto is represented in a quote by Will Rogers. “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.”

Both Al and Don agree that they probably would not have had the opportunity to see the WWII memorial had it not been for Honor Flight. They said for many on the flight, it was their first trip to D.C.

‘Honor Flight’ participants were greeted with applause and music in appreciation for their service as they returned to Northwest Arkansas on Saturday night.

While they enjoyed seeing the memorials, both Conway men said they were touched by the outpouring of support that they along with the other veterans received. The group was greeted with much pomp and circumstance – including bands and cheering/applauding crowds – when they arrived at D.C. and when they returned to Fayetteville around 9:30 p.m.

“I’m thankful I got to go,” Don said.

“It was a well deserved honor,” added Jerry.

Al noted that in his life there have been those special days that he will always remember. “This was one of those days.”

For more information on the Honor Flight program, visit honorflight.org.

(See more information and photos about the trip in the June issue of 501 LIFE.)