Honor flight for father and son

Contributed photo Francis Sampson, center, and Donald Sampson, far left, stand with family and friends at Port Columbus airport Saturday. The father-and-son veterans participated last weekend in a tour of Washington D.C., organized by Honor Flight Columbus.

Although wars and military service are an important element of American culture, the veterans who dedicate their years to the service are often overlooked when they return from duty.

Honor Flights, a nonprofit established in 2005 by a retired Air Force captain in Springfield, has organized flights for more than 223,000 veterans in states across the U.S. during its history. The veterans are given flights to Washington D.C. to visit monuments and places of military significance, each veteran with a guardian escort, at no cost. The program’s intent is simply to honor those who served.

Washington County veterans Francis and Donald Sampson boarded their Honor Flight plane at the Port Columbus airport Saturday morning, along with more than 90 other veterans. Francis, 93, was one of six World War II veterans on the flight.

His son, Donald, 69, served in the Army from 1970 to 1972, stationed in Korea.

“We had to be in Columbus at 5:30 a.m.,” Donald said. “There was a welcome committee that was unbelievable, there must have been 200 volunteers with shirts and name tags for us, all to give honor to veterans who didn’t get that reception when they came home from service.”

Contributed photo Francis Sampson, left, and Donald Sampson are greeted by friends and family at Port Columbus airport Saturday after returning from a tour of Washington D.C., organized by Honor Flight Columbus. Frances, 93, was one of six World War II veterans on the flight, and Donald, who served in the Army in Korea in the early 1970s, is his son.

It was a long day ahead. The flight landed in Baltimore and the veterans toured Washington D.C. by bus.

“Our guardian, the one in charge of us, he was firefighter and EMT from Columbus. It was his 11th trip, and the lady who was our tour guide, it was her 47th. They really knew what they were doing, where they were going,” Donald said.

“It was all about the veterans, for our service, the time away from home and family, and the sacrifice our spouses made, that’s important,” he said. “You had all the snacks and food you wanted, we didn’t have to do anything.”

Francis Sampson was born in Waterford, grew up there and attended all his school years there.

“I never missed a day of school, I had two paper routes, then our family moved to a bigger farm by Watertown, and after I turned 18 the draft got me,” he said.

He entered the Army late in World War II.

“I took three weeks of basic training in Texas, but I caught pneumonia and spent three weeks in the hospital. When I finished the other 12 weeks of training, the war in Germany was over,” he said. “They sent a lot of us to Washington state for aptitude tests, then they sent me back to Texas and I went to a medical school for a crash course in nursing.”

Francis spent time after that in an Oklahoma hospital helping treat wounded who had been shipped back with war injuries. He was on his way overseas for the Pacific Theater war when Japan surrendered.

“I was supposed to be shipped to one of the islands – it might have been Okinawa – for the invasion,” he said. “We stopped in Hawaii, and after the Japanese surrendered, I worked in a dispensary there.”

Francis spent the remainder of his stint in Hawaii, gaining the rank of Tech. Staff Sergeant. He returned to Watertown, worked on the farm for a year, got married, moved to Marietta for seven years and then returned to Watertown where he settled on two acres. He still lives there.

“I first heard about the Honor Flights when I was eating dinner at a restaurant,” he said. “A couple men from the veterans office in Marietta told me about it and gave me a card. I didn’t do anything about it right away, but my son got to talking about it, and my son-in-law – he’s in the Air Force in St. Louis – talked about it, and I finally said it might be something good … I filled out an application, and it was only a week or so when I got notification that Donald and I had been accepted.”

He didn’t regret it.

“I’m glad I went, it’s something every veteran should do. You don’t need to worry, that guardian gets assigned to you and sticks like flypaper. I was one of six veterans from World War II, and five of them were in wheelchairs, but nobody was neglected,” he said. “They’ve got everything planned and in order, they’re a wonderful organization.”

Donald said it was eye-opening to see the memorials and he was especially moved by the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Washington government departments, Francis said, honor their fallen.

“The way they display memorials was really impressive, walls with the names of people,” he said. “It was heart-sickening to see the names of all those boys who didn’t come back.”

Both men said that enjoyable as the Washington tour was, the reception when they came back to Columbus is what will remain in their memories.

“It was really a shock when we came back in,” Francis said. “In the terminal, there was all this hollering, yelling and singing, there must have been 2,000 people in there waving flags, shaking our hands. It was a better reception than we got when we came back from overseas, the respect they showed to soldiers.”

“The return home was unbelievable, very few vets ever got that,” Donald said. “There were active duty military people, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, people from the VFW, schools, an Army band, bagpipes and all the families had been notified to be there. It was a pretty emotional experience.”

Francis said the plane arrived at 8 p.m., but the men didn’t leave the terminal until 10:30.

Delores Barth, Donald’s sister, said the organization had urged all the veterans’ friends, family members and community acquaintances to write cards of appreciation for the returning veterans. The cards were presented to all of them at a “mail call” during the welcome-back ceremonies.

Francis, she said, received 76 cards.

“Dad spent Sunday afternoon from two to five just opening those cards and reading them,” she said.

Honor Flights:

• Organized by nonprofits to recognize the service of veterans.

• Flights, tours of Washington D.C., and receptions sponsored at no cost to veterans.

• Columbus group will mark its 100th flight Oct. 7.

Source: Honor Flights.