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Friday, November 11, 2016

Fort Thomas had Two Veterans on Honor Flight

Bill Burkart with his son, Bob Burkart ready to board the Honor Flight

Recently, Fort Thomas Matters did a story on Jack McGraw, a Korean War veteran who flew as a guest of the Honor Flight organization on October 25, 2016. It turns out there were two Fort Thomas residents on that flight.

Bill Burkart, a lifetime Fort Thomas resident, was on the same flight. His son, Bob Burkart, attended with him. Bill served in the Army from September 1959 to August 1961. He trained in Fort Knox and was a radio operator. After he arrived in Korea, he was assigned to the Command Post since he could type. Bill said that was the best job on the base.

Almost 40 years after Bill left Korea, he went back for a visit. "My daughter was married to an F-16 pilot and they had their first child in Korea. We went went there to see them. The change from 1961 to 2000 was incredible. Everything was very modern. We found a pasta shop and the server spoke perfect English. She said she had gone to the University of Colorado."
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Bill and his wife, Rita, have been married 54 years and are the parents of four children. Besides his son, Bob, he has four daughters: Julie, Jenny, Barb, and Annette. Bill also has 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Bill with his wife, Rita. Married 54 years.

Bill's family was there to greet him.
Back Row: Mike Durham (son in law), Joe Durham (grandson), Bob Burkart (son), David Turner (son in law),
Rita Burkart (wife) Bill Burkart, Julie Sarakatsannis (daughter)
Middle Row: Jenny Turner (daughter), Barb Smith (daughter)
Front Row: Annette Durham (daughter), Eva Sarakatsannis (granddaughter), Sophia Sarakatsannis (granddaughter)

Bill's journey began when Jenny Turner and her sisters read about the flight, pulled up an application, and filled out the form. Their brother volunteered to be his escort.

Jenny said, "When dad got back from the flight, we were all able to be there to greet him at CVG. Three of his grandkids were there as well. The rest of his grandkids are in college or working in other states but they were there in heart."

A highlight of the trip was when Bill's grandson surprised him by showing up at the Korean War Memorial. Michael Smith (Barb's son and Bill's oldest grandchild), is a Captain in the Army.
Bill with his grandson, Michael Smith, Michael's wife, Jessi, and his two great-grandsons, Paul and Patrick at the Korean War Memorial.

"Michael is in his third and final year of Family Medicine Residency at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, Virginia," said Jenny. "He lives in Alexandria with his wife Jessi and his sons, Paul & Patrick. When Michael found out about the date of my Dad's Honor Flight he was excited because he knew that was his day off. He decided not to tell my Dad but to surprise him at one of the monuments with his family. He kept in contact with my brother Bob and was able to surprise him at the Korean War Monument. They even got to go to a couple more monuments with my Dad. It was the first time my father had seen the baby, his second great-grandchild"

Bill's son, Bob, was grateful for the chance to spend some time with his dad and learn more about his experience as a veteran. 

"I thought it was really engaging. I got to be around people who have experienced something I never have. Getting to talk to them, hear their stories, some state-side and some in the war. The service and sacrifice that so many made is a privilege. It was just really rewarding."

Bob appreciated seeing their reactions and how much those things mean to them. "It's great to see your parent in a different light, the veterans razzing each other and realizing these people were just kids when they went through this. A son of one the veterans showed up during the tour. He was a member of CREW, a pilot for the presidential helicopter."

Bill and Bob both commented on how well organized everything was. When the plane left and also when they arrived, fire engines sprayed their hoses as a salute. There were flags there and ground crews saluting.

There were 72 veterans, 22 of them in wheelchairs. There was an EMT and a tour guide on each of the chartered buses along with several volunteers.
The 72 veterans that were on the Honor Flight.

Bill said, "The highlight of the trip was seeing the Korean Memorial with his grandson and great-grandson there. The most moving was visiting Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Four veterans from the flight laid a wreath at the tomb while everyone saluted. They do this in every kind of weather, even if it's so bad they have the option to not show up they do it anyway."

The Vietnam War Memorial was emotional as well. Bill was overwhelmed by all the names and so many lives lost.
Bill and Bob Burkart at the World War II War Memorial.

Bill and Bob Burkart at the United State Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

He enjoyed visiting the Air Force memorial and described it as having three spires that are 280 feet tall. They arch outward and form a diamond shape. "Every five years an inspector climbs all the way to the top using a rope and pulley system. The inspector checks the inside of all the spires, leans around the corner, and then swings to the other side. Sometimes the wind can be blowing seven miles an hour."

When Bill and Bob arrived back home they were greeted by a huge crowd that included relatives, friends, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and bagpipes. His granddaughters, who are in the 4th and 7th grade, shook hands with the veterans. Many people brought notes to give to the veterans.

Four of Bill's eight siblings were able to greet him at the airport.
Left to Right: Dave and Patti Burkart (brother and sister in law), Miriam Burkart (sister), Ginny Burkart (sister), 
Tom and Mary Jo Burkart (brother & sister in law)

According to their website, "Honor Flight  is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing veterans with honor and closure." They transport veterans to Washington D.C. on a chartered flight using American Airlines and then charter three buses so the veterans can visit and reflect at the memorials.

There are 21,032 veterans on their waiting list. An estimated 640 WWII veterans die every day according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, so World War II survivors get top priority along with veterans who are terminally ill. They supply the vets with red or blue wheelchairs if they're not ambulatory or might have a hard time walking throughout the day. The day is free for the veteran but escorts are charged $450.00.

All the people who participated in the Honor Flight highly recommend it. Their experience was priceless.

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