Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: En route to the Grace Flight Air Race in Sherman, we stopped for lunch at Southern Flyer Diner at the Brenham airport. Vickie Croston had two special people for us to meet: Bill Ford and Gerald Roop, two friends she met through her involvement in Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization that honors America's veterans for their sacrifices. Honor Flight Network, transports our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at the memorials, free of charge. When Montgomery Jr. High School history teacher Brenda Beaven began organizing Honor Flights in Houston she got the attention of her principal, Duane McFadden, who was compelled to get involved. Together they’ve coordinated five flights to Washington-Dulles aboard chartered 757s and 737s.
We’re saying good-bye to over one thousand World War II veterans every day. Time to express our thanks is of the essence. As trips are scheduled, senior-most veterans along with those who are terminally ill receive top priority. Volunteers accompany the heroes as guardians; Vickie was Gerald and Bill’s.
Mike: Upon landing at Brenham, as we approached the on-field diner, Vickie and her two charges were resting comfortably in the shade of the large covered porch. Joining us on the restaurant’s deck that faces the runway, they shared their stories.
Bill Ford was born in New Orleans where his dad worked for the railroad, but a farming life was calling so the family moved to Navasota. Three months before World War II ended Bill entered the Navy. As a Quartermaster Signalman he was trained in the use of navigation and communication radios and visual communication using flags and lights. Bill still remembers Morse Code and wowed us with a perfect demonstration of the Semaphore flag signaling alphabet.
His first ship was a 160-foot long wooden minesweeper that went ahead of the forces into bays around the Marshall Islands dragging a “pig” behind it to cut the cables used to hold mines submerged below the water’s surface. The mines were magnetic and the wooden hull of the minesweeper didn’t attract them. Once the mines floated free they shot them.
For most of his time in the Navy Bill was assigned to the LSD-22 USS Fort Marion, a Landing Ship Dock transporting Marine troops during the Korean conflict. The Fort Marion was eventually bought by Taiwan, used in their navy, decommissioned, then sunk and used as a diving reef. But no matter where it is, that ship is part of very important memories for Bill Ford, and reasons for gratitude for us.
Linda: 130 veterans from Bryan/College Station and Conroe were on Gerald and Bill’s trip, welcomed at both the departure and destination airports with a salute ceremony. Water cannons formed arches over their taxiing aircraft on departure and again on arrival. Buses, escorted by sheriff and city police motorcycle guards took the veterans to the WWII Memorial, followed by the Korean Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Changing of the Guard and the posting of colors at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, then to the Iwo Jima Memorial and finally the Lincoln Memorial. Breakfast and dinner were served on fine china on the plane and a boxed lunch provided on the bus. The trip, thanks to donations and volunteers, serves as a “Thank You” to our brethren who have given so much.
Come back next week to read about Mr. Roop, another hero who took an Honor Flight.