Seventy years after joining the U.S. Armed Forces to fight for their country, three Elwood men were among the veterans recently honored by an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial.
Carl Scott, 89, Joe Peeper, 88, and Bob Burchette, 90, flew with 67 other WWII veterans on the free one-day excursion arranged by the Indianapolis chapter of the Honor Flight Network.
The purpose of the Network is to honor American men and women who served in the war years 1941-1945.
The flights to D.C. are arranged by all-volunteer groups across the nation that depend on donations to cover the $60,000 cost for each full flight.
“Guardians” who pay their own way escort each veteran throughout the day. The Network states, “Our veterans are not asking for recognition. It is our position that we owe it to them.”
The WW II memorial did not open in Washington until 2004, when the survivors were entering their 80s and 90s. Realizing these veterans’ health and finances might deter them from seeing their memorial, one man in Cincinnati began organizing the flights.
Since that 2005 inception, the number of Honor Flight chapters in the country has grown to 114; they have transported 98,500 veterans to see their memorial. The goal is to get the 1.5 million remaining WW II veterans to Washington D.C. before it is too late, as they are now passing away at an approximate rate of 800 a day. After that, the Network will continue the flights for veterans of later wars.
Pouch of thank-you letters
The three Elwood men served from 1943-1945. Carl Scott, in a combat squad, and Joe Peeper, as an aircraft mechanic, were Marines in the Pacific Theater. Bob Burchette was an airbase mechanic in the Army Air Corps in England and Europe.
All came under fire, but Scott saw the most action. In the invasion of Pellelieu in 1945, 13 men out of 200 were left standing in his company after they went in on the third wave. On Okinawa, Carl was wounded when a sniper's bullet punctured his helmet and drove the shards into his face and scalp.
Peeper suffered permanent hearing loss after suicidal Japanese pilots landed on his base on Okinawa and threw bombs at the U.S. aircraft. During the same period, kamikaze suicide missions attacked U.S. ships. For a while, he said, “Every night was the Fourth of July.”
The men spent their Honor Flight day sharing memories with other veterans and with their guardians. At the World War II Memorial, they met flights from other states and mingled with tourists, who shook hands and expressed their gratitude. The number of young people who came up to say "thank you" impressed Peeper.
After viewing the WW II memorial, the veterans visited Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and the memorials to the Korean and Vietnam wars. A dinner the night before, and a rally upon their return, also honored them. On the flight home, each received a mail pouch of thank-you letters from schoolchildren, family, friends and notables.
The three don’t remember experiencing major problems in adjusting to civilian life when they returned to Elwood in late 1945.
“I was just glad to be doing normal things,” said Scott. He got on at Delco Remy, didn't care for it, and quit to farm with his dad. He does remember he once “hit the dirt” when their tractor blew off excess steam.
A year later he went to Purdue on the G.I. Bill, and became an agriculture teacher and a leader in FFA education. He later established the Sellersburg regional branch of Ivy Tech, serving as its chancellor from 1969-1986. Scott has attended 45 reunions of his unit: B Company, First Battalion, Seventh Marines. He had four children with his first wife, Betty. After she died, he married Evangeline; they share several grandchildren.
Peeper came back to Elwood to lay pipe for Marathon Oil. He spent his last 20 working years as a maintenance supervisor for the Elwood school system. He used the G.I. Bill to become a pilot and flew small planes for many years, passing his love of flight to his son, Mark, who became a pilot in the Marines and now flies commercially. Mark and his wife flew in to join Peeper and his son Mike, his guardian, at the WW II Memorial. Joe’s family has a Marine tradition: his three sons and two of his grandsons have been in the Corps.
Peeper had four children with his first wife, Rachel. After being widowed, he married Barbara, who had two children. They share many grandchildren.
Burchette returned to Delco Remy and spent his whole working life there, retiring in 1985. He and his wife, Theresa, have been married 66 years; they have three sons and three grandchildren.
The day of the Honor Flight "was fabulous," said Burchette. “It made us feel important.” When reminded that they were definitely important, the men shrugged it off.
“We’re just a bunch of old men,” said Scott with a half-smile.
As these veterans see it, they went because they had to, and they did the job they were assigned, despite being scared “all the time.”
Modesty is a common trait among the veterans of the “Greatest Generation," according to Mike Peeper of Elwood, who served as his dad’s guardian on the Honor Flight.
He said, “I was in the company of giants, true heroes.”
Mike, 64, served in Vietnam, but it wasn’t the same. “All we cared about was serving our 13 months and going home.”
The WW II veterans, he said, "threw everything off and went to fight for their country, for something bigger than themselves.”
Honor Flight requirements Veterans must fill out an application and obtain medical permission. The number of flights per year depends on the funds raised. Wheelchairs are provided for those who may tire during the long day, but all flight members must be able to walk down the aisle of the plane and the use stairs on the bus. A family member age 18-67 may be appointed a guardian if he or she applies with the veteran, but spouses are not eligible unless he or she is also a veteran. Applications are available online or by phone contact. World War II veterans will be served first. Veterans of later wars may apply and be put on a waiting list. If they are terminally ill but can still travel, they will be placed as soon as possible. For information: Honor Flight Network Headquarters, Cincinnati: http://www.honorflights.org. Phone: (513) 277-9626. The Indianapolis chapter can be found at http://indyhonorflight.org or (317) 559-1600.