WWII, Korean War vets feted in honor flight

HOMER (AP) — Sixteen million men and women served in World War II. Of those, 2 million remain alive. As that generation ages, organizations around the country work to make sure they get one last hurrah: an all-expense paid trip from their homes to Washington, D.C., to see war memorials and other sites.

“We feel a sense of urgency. These guys are going away 600 a day,” said Ron Travis, organizer with his wife Lynda of The Last Frontier Honor Flight, the Alaska group that helps older veterans visit D.C.

The Travises recently returned with a group of 23 veterans and traveling companions — called guardians — who went on the fourth flight of the Big Lake-based organization, including several veterans and friends from the lower Kenai Peninsula.

Some were Korean War veterans, like former

Homer resident LeRoy Gannaway, now living in Wasilla, but most were World War II veterans, including Dottie Holten, 92, of Homer, and Johnny Hansen of Stariski.

Honor Flight veterans get free airfare donated by Alaska Airlines, while guardians pay $1,000 for airfare, hotels and other expenses, said Ron Travis. The American Legion Post 16 paid for Holten’s guardian, Darlene Sheldon. Every vet- eran gets a wheelchair and those who need oxygen also get equipment, all donated by Geneva Wood Pharmacy of Anchorage. More priceless was recognition at every stop of the way. The veterans and their guardians all wore matching blue-and-gold jackets and stood out in the crowds.

A Scottish pipe and drum corps and choirs performed a musical send-off for the veterans in Anchorage. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot greeted them. The Colony High School Junior ROTC color guard saluted them. At layovers in Portland, Ore., and at the Washington, D.C., airport, more honor guards met them. Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, visited with the veterans at the World War II Memorial. When people at airports saw the veterans being honored, they clapped and cheered for them. At memorials when school children saw the veterans, they lined up to greet them.

“Our intention was to give them a welcome home they never got,” Travis said.

“I don’t think for my entire life I have shaken hands that much,” Holten said.

Holten was one of two women veterans on the honor flight. Eleanor Smith, a U.S. Air Force veteran, also at- tended. One highlight for Holten was visiting the Women in Military Service Memorial for America. The memorial had known she was coming and put up a plaque honoring her service.

Holten served in the U.S. Coast Guard in Seattle from April 1943 to October 1945. Born and raised in California, she married her husband, James Holten, at age 18. When he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and got his orders overseas, Holten joined the Coast Guard.

“I could see a long, lonesome war ahead of me,” she said.

Holten went through boot camp at probably one of the poshest barracks ever: the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., a luxury hotel remodeled for military service. Holten remembered the commissioning ceremony for the hotel bar- racks, when the recruits stood in wool dress uniforms in the June sun. One by one recruits began to faint, but Holten noticed a drill instructor who didn’t like her had his eye on her.

“I’ll be darned if I was going to faint,” she said.

Traveling by train to Seattle, the Coast Guard women shared a train with two cars full of British sail- ors. The sailors had to walk through the women’s car to get to the dining car.

“I got a whole bunch of British sailors’ autographs,” Holten said.

In Seattle she stayed at the Assembly Hotel and worked in the district personnel office. One of her jobs was to mark off daily staff reports by duty station on a big chalkboard she had to stand on a ladder to reach the top rows. Women didn’t serve in combat then.

“They didn’t think we were capable of combat,” Holten said. “Or maybe they figured you can turn a woman on but you can’t turn her off. It takes a bit to make a woman go battle berserk, and then she doesn’t stop.”

As a point of embarkation for the Pacific Ocean, a lot of soldiers, sailors, Marines and pilots passed through Seattle. Holten went to a Lutheran Church service club for entertain- ment and to give the soldiers company. The club had a piano and singalongs every night.

“It was companionship and friendship, and a lot of people a long way from home,” she said. “I was there long enough I met some of them when they came back, and that was bad, these cheerful American boys going out and com- ing back absolutely drained.”

James Holten corresponded with her by V-mail, letters photographed in the war zone on microfiche and then sent as film back home. The negatives were then printed and de- livered. Her husband wrote her twice a week, but one time she didn’t get any mail for two weeks. His ship had lost its radio during a storm, and when it got back to port, was just about to be listed as lost at sea. The letters then started to come again.

“That was much, much better for my morale,” Holten said.

Her husband had one close call when a Japanese plane flew down on his ship.

“He (the pilot) came down low enough they could see his face, and then he wagged the wings and flew away.

Apparently they were too little for him to worry about,” she said.

After the war, the Holtens lived in Paso Robles, Calif., and then Cave Junction, Ore. They were married for 54 years before he died in 1995. She moved to Homer in 2000 with son, Donald Holten, and his wife. Donald died of weld- er’s cancer. Dottie Holten lives independently in a trailer off East End Road.

Holten said she feels the women military veterans of her generation paved the way for modern women service members.

“Our being in service has made it easier for girls to go in now,” Holten said. “It made a difference to the girls who wanted to go in after us. Now they’re letting us do things like sea duty, air-sea rescue.”

Travis and his wife founded The Last Frontier Honor Flight after hearing of a similar effort from a veteran at his mother’s assisted living home in Spokane, Wash. He and Lynda Travis decided to help out with an Alaska honor flight group, and when they found out there wasn’t one, began The Last Frontier Honor Flight.

Starting in January 2013, they made their first flight in October 2013 and have done three more since then. Eventually the honor flight plans to include Vietnam War veterans like Travis, but for now focuses on World War II and Korean War veterans, especially World War II vets.

“If you know a World War II guy, let us know,” Travis said. “If the doctor says they can fly, we’ll take them.”

The oldest veteran who has gone was 102. On one flight, the average age was 90.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with those guys. It’s an honor hanging out with them,” Travis said.

The Last Frontier Honor Flight also welcomes cash do- nations and volunteers to be guardians or airport greeters. For more information and to help, visit www.lastfrontier- honorflight.com or call 866-790-7944.

More in News

Linda Galloway, of Kenai, fills out her absentee ballot at Kenai City Hall on Wednesday. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Questions on casting your ballot?

There are 12 days left until th Nov. 3 general election.

Kenai librarian Bethany McMilin demonstrates how to use Lynda.com, an online learning resource available for free through the public library system, at the Kenai Community Library on March 13, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Community Library goes late fee-free

The Kenai Community Library will no longer charge daily late fees for materials.

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
DHSS reports more than 200 new cases for fifth time this week

The statewide alert level, based on the average daily case rate for the last two weeks, is high.

Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai City Council discusses COVID-19, emphasizes diligence

Growing infection numbers, increased case rates and mask compliance were all discussed.

Free flu shots available Saturday

Shots will be available Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the lot of Kenai Central High School.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, bottom right, participates in a press conference via Zoom videoconferencing along with members of his public health team on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Top left: Jamie Hartung, interpreter; top right: Heidi Hedburg, director of Public Health; center left: Dr. Joe McLaughlin, chief of the Alaska Section of Epidemiology at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; center right: Adam Crum, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; bottom left: Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer; bottom right: Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Screenshot by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
‘We always knew that virus cases were going to rise’

In first press conference in almost two months, Dunleavy addresses recent virus surge

This graphic shows the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District risk levels associated with different numbers of new COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)
High case counts to keep schools remote for another week

Central and southern peninsula schools to continue remote learning through Oct. 28

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports 204 new cases, 15 on the peninsula

The statewide alert level, based on the average daily case rate for the last two weeks, is high.

Most Read