Salute To Veterans
SATURDAY, JUNE 14, 2014
Jackson County's Flag Day Salute To Veterans was literally uplifting.
Following a ceremony at the National Airline History Museum, housed in Hangar 9 of Kansas City's Downtown Airport, the veterans attending the special event Saturday, June 14 were given a chance to take flight aboard the Axis Nightmare, a vintage World War II bomber. The B-25, its name scrolled on its fuselage, sped down a runway not far from where the twin-engine aircraft had been built in Kansas City, Kansas. During America's massive military build-up after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Kansas City region became an epicenter for producing many of the planes that would be needed to claim air superiority in Europe and the Pacific.
"I remember building models of the B-25 when I was a kid," recalled Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders. "This is one of the most iconic and popular aircrafts of the World War II era."
The B-25 at the Salute To Veterans event was one of the 6,600-plus that Kansas City played a pivotal role in getting off the ground. Among the about 250 people at Saturday's event were Ray Hawks and Emma Jean Newland, two of the more than 50,000 employees who produced the B-25 in a gargantuan plant in KCK's Fairfax District -- just across the Missouri River from the Downtown Airport.
Newland, whose 90th birthday was Monday, June 16, lived on a farm with no electricity, 50 miles from Kansas City. She rode a train and then streetcars to reach the Fairfax District. She was eventually promoted to "Lead Man," earning $1.25 an hour (up from $1.00 when she started at the factory), and worked on the North American Aviation assembly line from August 1942 through August 1945 when the plant was shut down after World War II had been won.
"I was definitely Rosie The Riveter," said Newland, standing beneath the Axis Nightmare. "I worked on that flap right there on the tail assembly. I put the rivets in."
The B-25, featuring 160,000 moving parts and 150,000 rivets, was utilized primarily in the Pacific theatre as part of the famous island hopping campaign against Japanese forces.
After working in the B-25 plant as an engine rigger, Hawks joined the Air Force, flying primarily the fork-tailed P-38 Lightning fighter.
"That brought back a lot of memories," Hawks said after his and Newland's flight on the Axis Nightmare. "I forgot how rough those planes were."
Private donations covered the costs of bringing the Axis Nightmare back to Kansas City from its current home at the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Cincinnati. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 124 and The Roasterie Coffee were the official Salute To Veterans sponsors.
The B-25 flights Saturday symbolized the nation's obligation to lift up all veterans, County Executive Sanders said, especially those in dire need.
While the United States Senate, in a 93-3 vote June 11, approved legislation intended to reform the Veterans Administration health care system, another problem among vets, Sanders stated, needs more attention: homelessness. For tens of thousands of veterans "coming home" has taken on new meaning because they no longer have any place to call home.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, one in four homeless persons in America is a veteran. That equates to there being between 130,000 and 200,000 homeless vets nationwide. On any given night in Kansas City, about 1,400 veterans must endure being homeless.
An additional 600,000 veterans are struggling to pay their rent and are at risk of becoming homeless. The unemployment rate among veterans is also double the national average.
"This really is a national shame," Sanders said. "We owe a debt of gratitude to all of our veterans. We have an obligation to all the men and all the women who have put it on the line for our nation. We must make sure our concern for them doesn't end the moment they take off their uniforms."
Sanders noted that he had attended the Heart of America Stand Down donation drive to assist local homeless vets, an event that was held June 6 on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Jackson County will continue collecting Stand Down donations through the county's Big Bang Fourth of July Celebration at Longview Lake Beach.
Remembering Ike & D-Day
"What would General Eisenhower have to say about the plight of our veterans on the street today?" asked Sanders.
Dwight Eisenhower may have been the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces that parachuted behind enemy lines and landed on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, but Sanders noted the general with four stars on his collar appreciated that the GI's with "stripes on their sleeves were the real heroes." Eisenhower made a point of visiting with as many of the privates, corporals and sergeants as he could in the build-up to the "Longest Day."
Eisenhower was awarded his fifth star December 20, 1944, becoming a General of the Army. In 1953, he succeed Harry S. Truman as President of the United States.
When the beloved leader affectionately known as "Ike" died in 1969, Eisenhower was, by his own request, buried in an $80 government-issued casket -- a casket no different than what the Army would have furnished any other soldier.
"President Eisenhower was true to his Abilene, Kansas roots and humble 'til the end," Sanders pointed out.
The Salute To Veterans' special guest speaker understood how much Eisenhower had come to, in his own words, "hate war." In addition to President and General, she called Ike "granddad."
Mary Eisenhower has dedicated her life to promoting peace. She serves as the Chairman Emeritus of People to People International, a not-for-profit organization that President Eisenhower originally formed in 1956. Today, People to People is based in Kansas City and continues the mission President Eisenhower established for it: "To promote international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities."
"There is no more unconditional gift you can offer a nation and her people than to serve," said Mary Eisenhower, an Independence resident. "The words 'thank you' are just not enough."
She added that she was in France for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion her grandfather led. Little boys were playing in old bomb craters now covered with grass.
The scars on the battlefield may be less stark after 70 years, but the appreciation for the "unbelievable courage" of the soldiers who breached Adolf Hitler's notorious Atlantic Wall on D-Day should never fade, Sanders said. President Franklin Roosevelt, on that historic day, referred to America's troops as "our sons, pride of our nation."
Sanders cited the remarkable bravery of the Army Rangers tasked on D-Day with scaling the cliff at Pointe du Hoc. Their mission included climbing up ropes the Germans might cut at any moment, then, if they reached the top -- 100 feet up -- taking out the enemy's heavy artillery shelling both Omaha and Utah Beaches. All while under a hail of relentless gunfire.
Of the 225 Rangers who attempted the climb, 90 were killed or severely wounded.
"As one ranger fell, another took his place," Sanders said. "Think about the sacrifices, the courage of those men."
Fewer than one in 15 of the United States servicemen and women from World War II are still alive. Those surviving sons Roosevelt asked Americans to pray for June 6, 1944, are now grandfathers, great-grandfathers and even great-great-grandfathers.
"If you look at interviews of those Rangers who climbed those cliffs, they are asked, 'Why did you do it?'" Sanders stated. "They'll say because they knew they were part of something that was bigger than themselves. That's what drove them on."
Honoring All Veterans
Although much of the ceremony centered around the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the Salute To Veterans honored all the brave men and women who have don a U.S. military uniform.
In her 17 years with People to People, Mary Eisenhower has traveled to 77 different nations, but she stressed, "America is still, without a doubt, the greatest country on the planet, and you [veterans] made that happen. Thank you."
After presenting a proclamation saluting the Harry S. Truman Composite Squadron, a local Civil Air Patrol unit formed in 1964, Sanders concluded the ceremony with a quote from President Truman's April 17, 1945 broadcast to U.S. soldiers listening on Armed Forces Radio: "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."
A First Ride & A 'Rough' Reminder
Emma Jean Newland had never before flown on a B-25. She helped build the World War II bomber, though -- hundreds if not thousands of them.
During Jackson County's Salute To Veterans, Newland finally got her chance to climb aboard a B-25 for an "honor flight" over downtown Kansas City.
"This is exciting," she said, while standing under the Axis Nightmare's tail section prior to the ceremony Saturday, June 14 -- two days before her 90th birthday.
At 18, Newland went to work at the Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kansas where more than 6,600 B-25's would be produced. She became the quintessential Rosie The Riveter, attaching flaps to the twin-engine plane's tail section.
"I started to work at the plant August 8, 1942 and worked there until the war was over in 1945," she said. "I haven't seen one of these planes since then. I never got to fly in one until now."
Emma Jean Newland was the quintessential Rosie The Riveter, building B-25 bombers during World War II in a Fairfax District plant in Kansas City, Kansas.
'My Flying Casket'
Ray Hawks, another special guest at the Salute To Veterans, both helped build B-25's in the Fairfax plant and later had an opportunity to pilot one. He earned his wings when he moved from the assembly line in KCK to flying fighters over the front lines in the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge.
"We did a little bit of everything, dive-bombing, fire-bombing, strafing," Lt. Hawks said of his service in the 9th Air Force. "Seems like we did a lot of close support with General Patton on the ground. We always had at least four planes out and four on the way home during all the daylight hours. If we left Patton's forces for more than 30 minutes, the Germans would slip in and take a shot at the general."
The 91-year-old recalled that while he flew primarily the B-38 Lightning "you really didn't know what you would be flying from one day to the next."
He elaborated. "You seldom flew the same model of plane two days in a row because planes were constantly wearing out. I was just tickled to death if I got something that ran."
As a World War II pilot, Hawks' call sign was "Casket '45" because he served primarily in the conflict's final year, 1945, and he considered his plane -- whatever plane he might be flying -- "to be my flying casket."
Hawks' chance to fly a B-25 came back in the United States. Another man taking a B-25 on a two-hour flight asked the former fighter ace, given Hawks' hands-on knowledge building the bomber, to be his co-pilot. (Following his distinguished military service, Hawks resumed working in the Fairfax district at a GM plant.)
A 'Smooth' Landing
Being a passenger on the Axis Nightmare during his honor flight reminded Hawks "how rough these planes are."
As for Newland, when she returned to the ground after her maiden B-25 flight, she said, "Boy, that pilot made a smooth landing. I didn't even know we were back on the ground."
Hawks shook his head.
"I was a fighter pilot," he declared proudly. "None of the bombers ever appealed to me much at all."
Ray Hawks signs a print of a B-25 bomber. Hawks helped build B-25's in a Kansas City, Kansas factory in the early years of World War II. In the closing year of the war, he flew fighters over the battlefields of Europe, often in support General George Patton's troops on the ground.
In 1949 President Truman signed the official act of Congress creating holiday
June 14 -- Flag Day -- is an especially appropriate date to honor the men and women who have served in America's Armed Services. They are the ones, after all, whose defense of our nation has kept the Stars and Stripes flying so high.
"Because of those who have fought under it, our flag is a symbol of freedom around the world," Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders stated following the county's Salute To Veterans ceremony Saturday, June 14, 2014.
Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, a former Army officer, salutes the flag, during the presentation of the colors at the Salute To Veterans ceremony.
Flag Day originated with local and state celebrations that can be traced back to a Wisconsin school teacher, B.J. Cigrand, in 1885. Those grassroot efforts to pay tribute to the national emblem inspired Woodrow Wilson to issue the first-ever Presidential Flag Day Proclamation in 1916.
But it was President Harry S. Truman who made Flag Day officially a holiday. In 1949, he signed the formal act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.
Why June 14?
On that date in 1777, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act declaring "that the flag of the United States be made of 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
Every American is proud of those colors. "Red, white and blue" goes hand-in-hand with "U-S-A." Each color has a symbolic meaning:
Red = Hardiness & Valor
White = Purity & Innocence
Blue = Vigilance, Perseverance & Justice
"Our veterans embody what our flag represents," Sanders said.
Those who have answered the call to serve the country understand the flag is more than a symbol. President Truman emphasized that point in his 1952 Flag Day Proclamation:
"I urge all our citizens to give special thought on Flag Day not only to their many rights and privileges, but also to their duties and responsibilities under the national ensign, to the end that we may rededicate ourselves on that day to the principles of freedom and justice for which this Nation and its flag have always stood."