Charlie could’ve used an Honor Flight
It’s something you just don’t ask most veterans, but kids have never been ones to beat around the bush.
“Dad,” my mom remembers asking, “did you ever kill anyone?”
Without saying a word, he got up and walked away.
Charles Williamson took his stories of serving in World War II with him when a heart attack claimed his life in 1968 at the age of 53.
I never met my grandfather, a Jefferson resident who was managing Greene and Guthrie counties for Blue Cross and Blue Shield at the time of his sudden death.
Naturally, I wish I could’ve met him.
I never got to crawl up on his lap or show him how I could write my own name or sit next to him at a movie.
Of course, all those things seem ridiculously trivial compared to the void created for my mom, the former Debbie Williamson, when she lost her dad while still a mere freshman in high school.
He never got to see her graduate; never got to walk her down the aisle; never saw his daughter become a mother, then a grandmother, in her own right.
It’s a list that could go on and on.
But more than anything — knowing what I now know about Grandpa Charlie — I wish he could’ve taken an Honor Flight.
He never spoke about his experiences during the war.
If my grandmother, Virginia, knew, then she, too, took those stories with her when she died in 1990.
This June marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, but we as a family know little to nothing about Grandpa Charlie’s role in what proved to be the largest conflict in human history.
The magic of an Honor Flight very often inspires these stoic men to break their silence, however late in life.
My 14 years on a newspaper staff in Springfield, Ohio, afforded me an early glimpse into Honor Flight.
Springfield was where Honor Flight began in 2005, not long after the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the organization’s founder.
At first, they flew out of the Springfield airport in little private planes.
Then came commercial carriers.
Honor Flight now has 137 regional hubs in 43 states.
To date, 117,556 World War II, Korean War and terminally ill other veterans have taken an Honor Flight.
It costs nothing for them, yet rewards families with untold riches.
I once spoke to a middle-aged woman in Springfield who didn’t know her father had landed at Iwo Jima until he took an Honor Flight in recent years.
Then, and only then, did the stories come pouring out.
Others had no idea their fathers and grandfathers had received Purple Hearts or Bronze Stars.
That is, until Honor Flight.
Each year in Springfield, they now hold Honor Flight reunions just so the guys can get together and reminisce even more.
I’ve repeatedly asked my mom for just the basics about Grandpa Charlie — where in Europe he went, for example — and every time, I think, “I can feel it. This will be the time I’ll get more than just an empathetic shrug.”
I’ve learned more about Grandpa Charlie’s service during World War II from his old obituary in The Jefferson Herald than from any other source.
I learned he served in Europe as a combat engineer and earned five battle stars.
Beyond that, though, I can only guess.
During World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers often worked ahead of the front lines.
They landed at Normandy and endured the Battle of the Bulge.
They built bridges over the Roer and the Rhine.
Did Grandpa Charlie do any of that?
He supposedly hated Army life and, according to legend, at the firing range during basic training, was awarded an “E.”
He thought that meant “excellent.”
But Grandpa Charlie was a part of history.
He did his part.
That much we know.
That, unfortunately, is all we know.