A retired Camas paper mill employee recently had an opportunity to visit several sites in Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight program.
Wilbert Kalmbach, a World War II veteran, and his daughter Maria Dunn saw The Lincoln Memorial, Air Force and Marine Corps memorials and a Vietnam memorial that honors the nurses who served.
They also witnessed the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
Kalmbach, 86, remembered an especially emotional moment at the WWII memorial. He encountered a 2-year old girl with her parents.
She held a small American flag and had a red ribbon in her hair.
“Samantha said, ‘Thank you for serving,’ Kalmbach recalled. “Her daddy said, ‘These are the veterans I told you about, remember?'”
“He was talking to her like an adult,” Kalmbach added. “That struck me.”
Kalmbach also talked to several eighth-grade students from Ohio.
“They came over and congratulated us,” he said. “The boys were gentlemen.”
Kalmbach told them knowledge is useless unless it is shared, and skill breeds success.
“So autograph your work with excellence,” he said.
Kalmbach described the trip as being similar to a family reunion.
“We were strangers, yet we held that common bond — I have your back — that kind of feeling,” Kalmbach said. “We spent a lot of time comparing what we did and where it happened and mixed in a lot of humor, joy, happiness and love.”
In addition to 20 participants from Washington, others traveled from Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, Alabama, California, Missouri, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Dunn served as Kalmbach’s guardian during the trip. There was no cost to the veterans, while the guardians each paid $400.
During WWII, Kalmbach was a cadet in training to fly, until the hostilities ended in Europe. He then became a parachute packer stationed at Nichols Field, south of Manila in the Philippines.
Kalmbach was not far from the city of Cavite, where his brother was a Navy radioman.
“We got to spend a lot of good times together before he was sent home after serving his hitch in the Navy,” he said.
Kalmbach, a sergeant with the Air Corp, was in the service from October 1944 through December 1946 when he received an honorable discharge.
He wants to make sure other WWII veterans know about the Honor Flight program. He read about it in the Fairway Village newsletter, and he checked websites about Honor Flights for additional information.
The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created to honor America’s veterans for all of their sacrifices.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day.
Inquiries for veterans and guardians can be sent to: Honor Flight, Inc., Attn.: Veterans Application, 300 E. Auburn Ave., Springfield, Ohio 45505-4703.
For more information, call (937) 521-2400, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.honorflight.org.