The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner
Biggsville- Ray Shafer, age 92, a decorated World War II veteran who went through all five major battles of that war, including Normandy, has returned home from the final Honors Flight for 2015.
It was only the second time he had been flown in a large jet of any kind but this time he wasn't knee to knee with his comrades, he was riding First Class in seat 3A!
"It was a great time, a good flight," Ray said.
"I was a little worried that I was not going to be able to keep going for the long day traveling to Washington D.C. and the return flight back, (around 25 hours), but I was energized the whole time."
Ray said, they had to be there early to get everyone loaded, many with wheel chairs, and then take the direct flight to D.C.. A busy day of touring and then returning to the Quad Cities International Airport around 11:30 p.m.
Ray said there were 82 veterans on board the large jet, the majority from the Korean War, but he along with a couple of others, were from WWII.
There were 15 veterans at least, in wheel chairs, and Ray said he felt pretty lucky he was still able to get around and didn't need a wheel chair or a walker.
Veteran John Allaman had taken part in the Honor Flight, Ray said, "and he encouraged me to go, and my granddaughter Stephanie (Shafer) Jerrett of Burlington, IA, said, "Grandpa, you're going, and I'll go along as your chaperone."
If you don't have someone who can go with you and pay $500, the organizers assigns someone at no cost to the veteran.
"I don't hear that well, so when they were giving out instructions throughout the day, Stephanie was a big help."
Ray was able to find his name on the wall with the help of his granddaughter running a computerized system that tracks down where his name is located. It read:
Honored by: Mrs. Raymond K. Shafer; Served with the 112th infantry, 28th Division, Normandy to Elbe River.
It was a neat moment to see that inscription and know his late wife who had been so supportive over the years, had contributed to this special day.
Besides that surprise, Ray said visiting the Korean War Memorial gave him an eerie feeling as if he were back in the war on field patrol. The larger than life stainless steel figures of soldiers had great detail in expression and stance.
Many WW II planes and memorabilia was on display at the Smithstonian Institute but Ray was taken back to find a German "buzz bomb."
The buzz bomb was something he tried to avoid for the majority of the time he was in Europe. Finding their target was unpredictable because it depended how much fuel was in the bomb as to how far it would go. Much of the damage to civilians was due to this bomb.
"I'd seen buzz bombs, too many times." Ray, explained how the buzz bomb was launched by the Germans hoping it would land on U.S. military and our "amo".
"I was just surprised to see anything German in the Smithstonian, but they had several German things. I think they even had German planes."
They had everything from the Wright Brothers to Air Force One. Ray recalled at 4 years old listening to Charles Lindbergh cross the Atlantic.
"He flew just a few hundred feet above the ocean because he had no windshield, I think in 36 hours. He was my idol."
Ray said at 4, he thought Lindbergh was his hero because everyone around him was excited about his flight.
Another thing Ray didn't expect to see, made him laugh. It was a picture drawn of a soldier with a big nose looking over a fence and simply said, "Kilroy was here!".
On the outside wall of the memorial are two golden gates. There is a "Kilroy Was Here" engraving behind each of them. One located behind the golden gate next to the Pennsylvania pillar and one next to the Delaware pillar.
There seems to be lots of stories about who Kilroy was but Ray said he was told by his officer that there was only one person in the whole U.S. service named Kilroy and he had drawn that picture and written that note and soldiers started doodling it all over France. We'd see it on a board fence, or marching down a road. It was good humor.
A news account in November of 1946 said, "At Last! Here's Kilroy" explaining "veterans who had seen that curious phrase on buildings, aircraft, fuselages and piers will be happy to know that Sgt. Francis J. Kilroy, Jr., a 21 year old Everett, Mass. soldier was responsible. He told his parents that while he was hospitalized early in the war, a friend scrawled on a bulletin board in a Florida airbase: "Kilroy will be here next week," then airmen carried it overseas."
Others say the phrase and doodle has dated back to 1937.
Well, it did give Ray a laugh to see it at the Memorial. Ray enjoyed the percision of the Honor Guard right down to the click of the heel, at the grave of the unknown soldier and was able to see the impressive changing of the guard.
"We had to snap to attention and always start out with our left foot." He explained that your right foot stays in place and your left foot snaps to it.
Then he recalled, "overseas, our shoes had rubber soles and the Germans couldn't hear us. They said we walked like cats. The Germans had steel toe shoes and you could hear them click on the roadway. They had that goose walk."
"We were told not to shoot unless it was kill or be killed. We had five German prisoners. We'd find them along the road sitting as if they wanted to be prisoners. They took care of our trucks and tires and they cooked and told us they never had it so good."
As for the Honor Flight, the biggest surprise was the "Mail Call" on his way home. "I was handed 22 letters and so overwhelmed. I read half of them until 3:30 in the morning when I fell asleep. It was a great trip. Someone asked my seatmate how we got to sit in First Class. He teased, "We're Generals!" The experience felt real good and felt privileged to have a top seat. It was a great flight on a 737. Words just can't express what you see! I thought I'd be tired as I walked all the time. I had an overwhelming reception. I would recommend anyone to go, and I appreciate those who helped make it possible," Ray said.
Ray Shafer, 92, Biggsville, said he was surprised by the eerie feeling he received as he walked through the Korean War Memorial. The stainless steel figures were so lifelike that he felt he was back on field patrol.