By Jerry Mellick ’67
In October 2016, Rear Admiral (Ret.) George Lotzenhiser ’47 and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jerry Mellick ’67, Eastern alumni from different generations, traveled together on the Inland Northwest Honor Flight to be recognized for their service to our country. Mellick served as the guardian for “The Admiral,” as he affectionately calls Lotzenhiser.
The following are excerpts from Mellick’s AAR (after action review) about this trip to Washington, D.C.:
We are home now after another great honor flight trip. This was my fifth trip. I was selected as an honoree on this Inland Northwest Honor Flight, but when I found out that a friend of mine, a World War II and Korean War Navy admiral, was also on the flight, I arranged to be his guardian. We managed to keep this a secret from him – this, and several other things.
I met him Monday morning at 6 o’clock and just walked up and told him that I was going to be his guardian. Before that, I had been interviewed by our local NBC station, and I talked to them about the 93-year-old admiral, and they, along with our CBS station, joined us on the flight.
In addition, Eastern Washington University’s Marketing and Communications Department sent a photographer/video guy, Eric Galey ’80, to document the trip. The admiral has been associated with the university as a student, professor and administrator since the 1940s. He retired from Eastern in 1983.
Our flight to D.C. was uneventful with a great breakfast and a box lunch so that we’d have something to eat on the bus ride to D.C. from Dulles Airport. The Dulles Airport Fire Department had two large fire pumper trucks give us the “wash down” as we were moving into the gate area.
The next stop was the Air Force Memorial, which is a pretty impressive sight. Unfortunately, it was dark by the time we got there, but we had been able to see it as we were coming up and it’s well-lit, kind of like the St. Louis arch is at night. It has three spires arching up into the sky. The fourth one is missing as a remembrance of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11 (the missing man concept). The memorial was built after 9/11 and sits up on a hill right on the flight path of the airliner that went into the Pentagon.
Then it was on to our hotel, Crystal City Hyatt. After freshening up a bit, we enjoyed a big banquet sit-down dinner. It was really great. The gentleman who’s in charge of this, and is a Spokane city police detective, spoke.
The following day, we ate breakfast at 6 a.m., which was 3 a.m. Pacific time. We were back on the buses by 8:15 a.m. to start a very long day.
The trip back to D.C. was with police escorts. I’m talking about lights and sirens the whole way. I will tell you that even though I’ve done it multiple times, it’s still pretty impressive to see what the police do to everybody else as they let us and our three buses go through red lights and go where we want to go when we want to go there. You can check with Lt. Col. Jason Pape (former EWU ROTC professor of military science) who was trying to meet up with us at Arlington. He got stopped a couple of times because the police wouldn’t let him go where he and others wanted to go.
Our first stop was at Arlington National Cemetery. We got there about 30 minutes before the changing of the first guard mount. I’ve seen it probably a dozen times, but it’s still very impressive. Back in the ‘80s, I knew the men who were these young soldiers’ predecessors. I knew them and I know how much work they do to live that life. They are out there silently walking their post carrying shiny M-14s as well as a glistening bayonet. They have a changing of the guard every a half-hour or so, and then they have usually two or three memorial presentations where the bugler from the Army band plays taps. For anybody who is seeing it for the first time, it’s got to be just chilling. I know it was for me.
Lt. Col. Pape met up with us there and surprised the admiral. We had some time before our next stop as it takes a while to load the busses. Loading 90 some older folks (plus guardians) many of whom were in wheelchairs on and off busses takes a bit of time.
Next stop was the Lincoln Memorial which is at the head of the reflecting pool with the Vietnam Wall on one side and the Korean War memorial on the other.
I’ve been to the Vietnam Wall many times, as had Pape, and because I think the Korean War Memorial is probably one of the most chillingly haunting memorials, we all decided to go to that one because of the admiral’s connection with that war. It is impressive. It’s a squad of soldiers trucking through the weeds, wearing their ponchos carrying their M-1s, PRC-10 radios or mortar base plates and tubes. They are gray statues and if you see it when it’s raining or snowing, or at night, it’s just unbelievable.
Later we drove on the north side of the Mall on Constitution Avenue, parallel with the Mall, and then about across from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, we turned further north and back over to the Navy Museum.
The Navy Museum is a pretty impressive place in its own right, but it’s not on the Mall like all the rest of the buildings. It was at this location that I managed to lose my admiral. He had headed for the gift shop to buy his granddaughter something, and I had headed for the restroom. When I came out, I couldn’t find him. It took me about 15 minutes to try to catch up with him. He had wandered into the theater and then found somebody to talk to in there, and that was the one place I didn’t look.
In my previous years, I had veterans in wheelchairs so I could just park them and they would be there when I returned. Not so much with the admiral. He is a very spry 93+ years old and it took some effort to keep up with him.
We boarded the buses again and, with our police escort, headed for the Iwo Jima Memorial. The memorial was, as always, very special to the Marines, and they had an impromptu formation and were interviewed by one of our TV crews. It was funny to watch as the cameraman, put down his huge complicated TV camera and videoed the entire interview on his cellphone and immediately sent it to his TV station and posted it on its Facebook page.
We prepared to board the planes for our return trip. It is so nice to fly on a charter airline. TSA just opens up its area, stands back and thanks each veteran for his or her service. No taking off your shoes or anything. It is TSA pre-check on steroids.
This year, about an hour out, the veterans had a mail call. The Honor Flight organization goes out to family members and asks them to send cards and letters to the veterans. If a veteran doesn’t have any remaining family members, several of the local grade schools are always happy to send in letters to the veterans. One ninth-grader in Sandpoint, Idaho, wrote a poem and asked for it to be read over the plane’s loudspeaker. It was very good and very emotional to us all.
The crowd welcoming us home was huge, as it usually is. I had asked the professor of military science at EWU if it would be possible to bring a handful of ROTC cadets out to the group’s arrival since the admiral is such a great supporter of the ROTC program. I couldn’t believe it, but there were probably at least a dozen cadets, although, through my misty eyes, it looked like about half of the Corps of Cadets, plus the master sergeant and the major and his children. The most impressive thing was the support of this effort.
I had several members of my family there to greet me and I knew others who come to all of these events just to welcome folks home. These events are such an emotional thing. If you haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer to be a guardian for your local Honor Flight organization, please do so. You won’t regret it. If you are a veteran or know of one, get an application filled out to go visit the memorials. You won’t regret that decision either.
Honor Flight relies on the tax-deductible donations from individuals and local businesses to cover the cost of these trips. Veterans do not pay any part of the costs themselves.
Volunteers act as guardians on the trips to Washington, D.C. and ensure that the veterans have a safe and enjoyable trip. Top priority is given to survivors of WWII and Korean War veterans, as their numbers are dwindling, as well as to veterans with a terminal illness who wish to visit their memorials, regardless of the war/conflict they served in. Honor Flight is also accepting applications from our Vietnam veterans. Honor Flights are away to say thank you for the service and sacrifice our veterans deserve. For more information, visit www.honorflight.org.