|By Carmelo Turdo|
Introductory music was provided by members of the John Ford Highland Pipe Band.
After brief welcoming remarks, Reverend Bob Phillips, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Directing Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Peoria, IL gave the invocation.
Guest speakers for the program brought different perspectives to honoring veterans. Kory Matthews, Vice President of Boeing Weapons for Defense, Space and Security, Space and Missile Systems Division, focused his remarks on recognizing veteran employees and highlighting the work the Boeing Company does with area veteran support groups.
"We recognize and honor those of you who have served," he began. "We are forever grateful for the selfless decision to serve our country and the sacrifices that you've made." Matthews listed several family members who had served in the armed forces from World War II to the Vietnam War. "Their service is a powerful reminder for all of us at Boeing," he continued, "that we have to bring our very best each and every day because we serve those who serve and lives depend on what we do. Our service members rely on our products, our support and our people to do their jobs safely and to the absolute best of our ability. This enduring commitment from the Boeing Company to the military goes back to well over a hundred years to when this company was founded and it continues to this very day. Not only through our products and our services, but also through our investment in service members, veterans, military families and the communities in which we have the honor to live." Matthews mentioned that the Boeing Company recently announced $50 million in grants to organizations that support veterans services. He added, "When they are ready to reenter the work force, it is our sincere hope that many veterans can find a fulfilling career here at Boeing. It is no secret in this industry that veterans bring value, skills and perspective to their civilian careers. Leadership. Integrity. Dedication. A servant leadership. These are all qualities exemplified by veterans and qualities that we certainly seek in our employees." Nearly 20,000 veterans currently work at Boeing, about 10% in St. Louis, he said.
First Sergeant Harry Hope, USMC (Ret.), a Korean War veteran of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, related his first-hand experience fighting in that frozen battlefield. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1948 at the age of 16, and immediately traveled to the Mediterranean theater. In 1950, he deployed to Japan before participating in the Inchon Landing that began the United Nations Offensive to reverse the invasion from North Korea. He helped to liberate Seoul and fought through the mountains towards the 38th Parallel. He participated in the Wonsan Landing in North Korea and moved north to Hungnam. There his unit, the Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, was attacked by Chinese troops. The entry of Chinese troops in the Korean War sent U.N. forces reeling, jeopardizing the goal of restoring South Korea's border.
During the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Hope's unit was in dire need of resupply: "We fought there for two or three days, and we were running out of ammunition. The Army supplied the Marine Corps when we were in Korea, and our commanding officer called down for 'Tootsie Rolls,' which was the code word for our ammunition...The Air Force did their job. They came over and dropped these canisters all over the place. When we opened them, they were full of Tootsie Roll candy...But it turned out that those Tootsie Rolls probably saved our lives because we didn't eat anything for two days. We couldn't build a fire because of incoming mortars. Everything was frozen."
Hope currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight, an organization that provides an opportunity for World War II, Korean War and now Vietnam War veterans to visit their war memorials in Washington, D.C. Since 2008, over 1500 veterans have taken Honor Flights from St. Louis, and the waiting list is constantly growing for the monthly trips. Contact the link above to support flights for 2018.
U.S. Air Force Major General (Ret.) Donald Bennett next addressed the mostly veteran audience. General Bennett's career began when he joined the U.S. Navy in World War II, and continued when he joined the USAF during the Korean War. He trained to fly the F-86 Sabre, but was assigned to Air Defense Command rather than the Korean Theater of Operations. He later flew the new F-86D Sabre as a service acceptance pilot for new production aircraft from North American Aviation. He served in numerous fighter and multi-engine aircraft wings, and also as an exchange pilot commanding a squadron of the British Royal Air Force flying English Electric Lightning and Hawker Hunter jet fighters. "The Hawker Hunter flies just like it looks, it's beautiful," he quipped. "The Lightning was...an airplane. A little bit different - they forgot to put fuel in it when they built it."
General Bennett brought to light his perspective on the development of jet fighters during the 1950s and 1960s. "I flew F-86s, and I enjoyed it very much," General Bennett continued. "It was a wonderful airplane. The early models of it had some problems. The later models came out fine." He recounted that the F-86A had one hydraulic system, and that the brakes could not be released until he moved the control stick around to unlock the system. The Sabre went through progressive advances to optimize the flight controls and add electronic weapons and fuel systems to ease pilot workload. During his career, he trained to "scramble" the Sabre from alarm to takeoff in five minutes or less, and later moved on to more advanced types, including the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle.
General Bennett closed his remarks with an old adage from the aviation community: "Each airplane is unique, and each airplane flies differently. But I'm always asked what airplane I like flying most, and I've always had the same answer: the one I'm flying at the time. That's the best one, because I'm there and I'm doing the job."
Boeing employee and U.S. Air Force veteran LaShawn Coleman introduced a Boeing initiative called R.E.D. - Remember Everyone Deployed - Fridays. The red poster, unveiled during the ceremony, symbolizes the effort to support the growing number of U.S. service members deplyed around the world. "This poster does not come as something new, rather as something we can say we can now practice here at this site in St. Louis so that we can see a sea of red every Friday," Coleman said during the unveiling. "It's our challenge to all the teams and all the programs to establish your Fridays to be when your employees wear red to help further our memory and care for those deployed all the way until they come back home." Accompanying LaShawn Coleman and Dave Thomas were Ben Montgomery and the Bald Eagle, Liberty, from the World Bird Sanctuary.
In concluding the ceremony, Dave Thomas invited all attendees to go to the St. Louis Veterans Task Force tent to receive a challenge coin depicting the F-86 Sabre fighter jet and recognition of the Korean War veterans from all armed services.
The Aero Experience thanks the Boeing Company St. Louis Veterans Task Force for recognizing area veterans again this year with this excellent program.