Editor’s Note: This story ran in The Carthage Press on May 30, 2018 and is being re-run here in honor of Neel Baucom, who died on Thursday, March 25, 2021, four days shy of his 74th birthday. See https://carthagenewsonline.com/news/neel-baucom-long-time-funeral-home-owner-died-thursday-at-73/.
CARTHAGE, Mo. — Five old Carthage friends, all veterans of the armed services, got a chance of a lifetime on May 16, and they highly recommend that other veterans should do what they did if they ever get the chance.
U.S. Navy Veteran Neel Baucom, Marine Corps Veterans Wayne Rose and Robert Russow and Army Veterans Ron Ferguson and David Troyer, all took part in the Honor Flight, which carries plane loads of veterans and their “guardians” on a day-long trip to Washington, D.C., to see the various monuments and museums honoring the services and conflicts they served in during their careers.
“I recommend any veteran that has the opportunity, go,” said Robert Russow, whom the other four men said was the spearhead behind them going on this emotional trip. “Even if you have to wait an year and a half, go. It’s worth the wait, every bit of it.”
It’s a long day for everyone involved.
The non-stop flight from Springfield to Washington departed at 5:40 a.m. and landed at 9 a.m.
A total of 84 veterans, each with a guardian, along with 16 or so staff supporting the trip, boarded four busses and headed to the World War II Memorial on one end of the National Mall.
Ron Ferguson said the group was treated like stars when they arrived in the nation’s capital.
“We had a police escort from the time we left the airport all the way through Washington, D.C., it was phenominal,” Ferguson said. “We had four busses and a bunch of old fart vets looking out the window and people are stopped and these cops are running around. We felt like VIPs.”
The trip was planned to get the maximum number of stops in the day, but allow the veterans time to reflect at the monuments of their choice.
After the World War II Memorial, the group rode to the Navy Museum, then the Korea, Vietnam and Lincoln memorials, which are all clustered together.
Other stops inclided the Iwo Jima Memorial, Air Force Memorial and Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
The final stop was one of the most poignant, Arlington National Cemetery and a chance to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Wayne Rose said witnessing that somber ceremony touched him.
“They say these guys don’t do this for honor and glory, but to glorify death,” Rose said. “That impressed me when I heard it.”
Each of the five Carthage vets said different stops held special meaning to them.
Neel Baucom got the chance to hook up with old friends from his service in the Navy in Washington that he hadn’t seen in almost 40 years.
“They called me on Tuesday before we left on Wednesday and they told me, it was the people from the Honor Flight, and they told me I would have a special recognition at the Navy Museum,” Baucom said. “I had no idea what it was, but when we finally got to the Navy Museum, they had us eat lunch, we didn’t get right off the bus.
“Finally we got off and I went over and stood by the (statue of the) lone sailor and his seabag, and I walked across with my guardian and was headed for the museum. As I went up the steps, I turned to look back over the plaza of the museum, and as I turned around, I looked over to my right and I saw this woman, and I said I know that lady. About the time I looked at her, she hollered at me, ‘Neel’ and she came running to me and grabbed me and gave me a hug and kiss. Her husband was with her and they were our best friends when I was stationed at the Navy hospital, and we were together all the time we were up there. I hadn’t seen them since 1981, and they called my wife and arranged to meet us there.”
Wayne Rose and Ron Ferguson got to share the trip with their sons, who served as their guardians.
“That was neat to have him there with me,” Rose said. “I can’t walk very well so he was pushing me in the wheel chair most of the time.”
“That meant more to me than the whole trip,” Ferguson said. “He was a perfect guardian, taking care of his old man.”
David Troyer enjoyed the military monuments, but it was an old standby among the monuments in Washington that impressed him.
“I liked the Lincoln Memorial,” Troyer said. “You’ve got I don’t know how many steps getting up there, but when you get up there, you can turn around and you can see the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool and it’s quite impressive.”
Robert Russow, who was injured in the Vietnam War, said several of the stops impressed him, but a photo his guardian took at the Vietnam Wall stuck with him.
“The Wall didn’t hit me near like I thought it would,” Russow said. “But there was a Park Service guy there and when my guardian was taking pictures, he moved me over about five feet and took a picture of both of us, and you can see the reflection of the Washington monument above our heads in the wall from that far away, that was really neat as far as pictures went.”
Russow said a memory he’ll keep with him from the event is coming home to a huge crowd of people with a water cannon salute by the Springfield Airport Fire Department, and the crowd of people waiting in the lobby for their return.
“At Springfield, when we were going through the line, and I wish I had had my guardian take a picture of him, there was a little boy about six or seven years old, and he had made a flag, it like 8×10 and on it he had ‘A Purple Heart is beautiful,’” Russow said. “That stuck in my mind all the way home.”