Del Webb resident Jack Furrer said his trip to the Washington, D.C., memorials via the Honor Flight of Northern California was one of the most fantastic experiences of his life.
The highlight for the World War II B-17 bomber pilot was meeting retired Senator Robert Dole, 87, who hosts the Second World War shrine with his wife Elizabeth who served as a senator from North Carolina.
The memorial opened seven years ago at the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue with a plaque dedicated to Dole that was placed on the entrance path earlier this year. It was a war memorial that would never have been built without Dole’s constant insistence.
Then First Lieutenant Furrer and Dole both served in World War II at about the same time. At just 20 years old the Manteca resident commanded a bomber that took a hit from ground ack-ack fire on his 29th mission and his diving the plane some 14,000 feet over Germany until the extensive fire on the left two engines and wing were extinguished. Flames had extended back past the tail when half the crew bailed out on orders from the pilot.
This past April marked the 66th anniversary that Dole was gravely wounded while fighting in the mountains of Italy in 1945. Also highly decorated the “experience and the grueling recovery” led him to become an aggressive champion for all veterans.
The Honor Flights to Washington, D.C., were initiated because of the 16 million men and women who served there are only some two million living today. Of those 800 are reportedly dying each and every day.
Furrer was left in awe and deeply touched by his trip to the D.C. memorials with other veterans in an age span of 85 to 95 years old.
“I’ve never seen so many grateful people. Everywhere we went people shook our hands and gave us hugs,” he said.
He recalled a group of teen girls who had met the plane to let the veterans know they are appreciated by the current generation. “I couldn’t believe how well organized it was,” he said of the three day trip that used two Virgin American airliners to fly to the East Coast.
Furrer said even when they arrived at Dulles International Airport there was a welcoming crowd ready with hugs and kisses waving American flags for the dedicated service men and women.
He explained that after landing, the group and their guardian assistants were put on a bus and taken to the Holiday Inn. The second plane was to arrive some six hours later in time for dinner. Following the dinner in the hotel the World War II veterans introduced themselves one at a time and gave a short history of their service to the country.
Furrer added that they all got up at 7 a.m. the next morning and were off to see the memorials including the Lincoln and Vietnam shrines.
“I met a (B-17) tail gunner from my outfit. He had shot down four German aircraft. His name was Robert Abney of Modesto,” Furrer said. Although he served in his bomb group, it was not at the same time Furrer was flying out of the London area with runs over Germany.
He said that out of the 31 in his group there were about 20 who were in wheel chairs spending about three hours touring the Aerospace Museum.
“I never heard one veteran complain about anything – it was very impressive,” he said.
There were 4,000 gold stars at the World War II Memorial that impressed the Del Webb Mantecan. Each star, he was told, represented 100 fighting men and women killed in the conflict which equaled 400,000 who gave their lives for America.
Then, there was a formal “mail call” break on the bus where the veterans were given notes and letters from grateful members of the public. One touched him greatly as he read it from a nurse on the airliner, Christina Stokke.
“Thank You – it’s not enough to say – to someone who has sacrificed so much. I can only say that I will never forget. May God bless you.”