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4/22/2013 11:13:00 AM
Bowden And Weatherhead Tour Washington D.C. With Honor Flight
Stu Weatherhead, of Jefferson, stands in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial while on his tour of the nation's capital with Honor Flight New England.
Stu Weatherhead, of Jefferson, stands in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial while on his tour of the nation's capital with Honor Flight New England.
By Paula Roberts

World War II veteran Stuart Weatherhead, 86, was building a stonewall along his Jefferson driveway when he got an unexpected call.

Weatherhead was asked to join 17 others, including 16 Maine WWII veterans for a one-day, whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C. The trip, sponsored by Honor Flight New England, was completely free for the veterans.

The call came on a Friday, the following Sunday (April 7) the group flew out of Portland and landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Where most veterans had a couple of months to plan, Weatherhead had just a few days, due to a cancellation.

Also on the flight was Waldoboro resident, Otto Bowden. "He had an excellent time. He really enjoyed it," his daughter, Denise said.

Honor Flight New England, founded in 2009, is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to honor American veterans. Through donations, they transport veterans to the nation's capital to visit and reflect at the war memorials.

"It is up to all of us to pay tribute to those most senior veterans that have given so much and ask for nothing in return. They say we did what we had to do; the real heroes did not come home. Our veterans are not asking for recognition. It is our position that they deserve it. This Honor Flight is just a small token of our appreciation for those that gave so much," an Honor Flight brochure states.

The day Weatherhead turned 17, he hitch-hiked from Jefferson to Boston and joined the U.S. Marines. His parents had to sign for him.

After training at Paris Island, he served in "the whole length of the Pacific." He was a member of the 4th Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division and participated in the Okinawa invasion, "until I was wounded."

He was transported to a Navy fleet hospital in Guam with shrapnel injuries, where he stayed for "probably 50 days. I was discharged just previous to dropping the atomic bomb. My outfit was assigned to go to Japan immediately. We landed there just like another invasion, packs and ammo and the whole bit," Weatherhead said.

His unit was chosen to be the first to land in Japan, because the original "old 4th was captured at Bataan [and] Corregidor in the Philippines. That is why we were chosen to go to Japan. We were there to relieve prisoners of war, if we could find any," Weatherhead said.

"Out of the blue they called," Stu Weatherhead said. "It was Mike's doing," Weatherhead said of his son, who had watched a news show about Honor Flight and filled out an application for his father on his cell phone. "He didn't know it might materialize," Weatherhead said.

"Everybody was pleased," Weatherhead said of going on the trip. "I never would have been able to go, financially. Boy, they were sure well-organized."

The group left Portland early in the morning and returned late the same night. They were met in Baltimore by a parade of greeters, who shook the veterans' hands and "told us they were proud of our service"

All veterans had to have a guardian with them to escort them, and push them around in wheelchairs. "Everyone had to be in a wheelchair, whether they needed it or wanted it," Weatherhead said. His son, Mike, was his escort.

The group was transported by bus, with motorcycle escorts from memorial to memorial. "I think they were mostly Vietnam vets. When we got to the airport they escorted us right to the memorials and hung around and mingled with us chaps. There were at least 20 of them in the escort. They treated us like royalty," Weatherhead said.

"The bus driver was a swell guy" and gave the veterans a guided tour of the nation's capital. He was one heck of a guide. He could drive that frigging bus," Weatherhead added.

"The bus driver pulled a u-turn in the middle of downtown. The motorcycles would block off an exit so the bus could continue through. It was phenomenal," Mike Weatherhead added.

Stu Weatherhead said visiting the memorials was a real treat. "I wouldn't leave the state (of Maine) for nothing. I think the last time was when my daughter got married maybe 30 years ago."

It was Weatherhead's first trip to Washington. His favorite memorial was the WWII with its impressive pillars. It "is big and round and each state is represented by a big granite pillar." They were just monstrous pillars, Weatherhead said, extending both arms out wide. From there, Weatherhead said he could see the Washington Monument, Capital Building and Lincoln Memorial.

They also visited the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Iwo Jimo Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the changing of the guards, and the Air Force Memorial. "We did it all in one day. It was some (sic) unreal."

At one memorial, Weatherhead was impressed to meet and talk to Rear Admiral Bryan P. Cuchen, formerly of Maine, who was the commander of the Navel Reserve forces.

Weatherhead called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guards "swell, too. The relieving of the guards was a (sic) impressive son of a gun. It goes on 24-hours a day, no matter what."

"It was phenomenal. It's almost like they are not human. It just makes you cry," Mike said. "It's like they're robots. Every 21 minutes they take 21 steps that take 21 seconds," Stu added.

Military protocol calls for a 21-gun salute at funerals, Weatherhead said, and the significance of 21 is paying the highest respects to the unknown soldiers buried there.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in Arlington National Cemetery. "Arlington National Cemetery is amazing. They are taking out a building and hill to make way for the next wave. They do 20 funerals a day there," Mike said.

The group was fed a box lunch on the bus, and after their tour were taken out to eat at the Golden Corral. "The owner came out and welcomed us. This was a mammoth, frigging buffet style. The owner came over to our table and we got to shooting the bull," Weatherhead said.

"Everyone was so gosh-darned nice. The old veterans did pretty good," Weatherhead said. The oldest veteran was 92-year-old Navy Wave, Dorothea Washburn, from Harrison. "They didn't like to be called that, which I never knew," Weatherhead commented on the term "Waves."

The Weatherheads were talking to a veteran and guardian and were surprised to learn they were from the neighboring town of Waldoboro. "It was Otto Bowden from Bowden Egg Farm and his daughter, Donna. That was kind of neat."

They were also met by greeters in the Portland Jetport. Among them were Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), military personal, civilians and airport staff. Maine's First Lady Ann LePage met them at their Portland hotel at 4:30 a.m. before their trip. They were escorted by six motorcycles and two police officers to the airport.

"The greeters were just incredible at Portland and Baltimore and all through the airport. I don't know how he stood it shaking all those hands. I never saw so many people in one place and all the traffic," Mike Weatherhead said.

"The people behind Honor Flight New England, Joe Byron and Sheila are known as 'the people who don't sleep' and Stu said Sheila is always laughing.

Weatherhead's daughter-in-law Kim said, "They make everyone so comfortable. I spoke to Joe several times before the trip, and no detail was too bothersome. They do this with such dedication and honor.

"Honor Flight is the right name for what they do. They lifted up our soldier, carrying him on this emotional journey - vets visit places those of us who've not experienced war never know.

"They returned our hero, setting him gently down on home ground with the honor and recognition he so richly deserved, but never sought," she said.

Otto "Pat" Bowden, 92, Waldoboro
The trip was an early birthday present for Otto Bowden, who turned 92 a week after his tour of the nation's war memorials. Bowden is active and rides his bike two miles a day in his winter home in Florida.

Bowden served in the Army artillery in World War II in the Pacific Theatre. He joined the National Guard in 1938 and was inducted in 1940.

After "Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor we were in for the duration. He served in Portland Harbor for four years, before going to the Pacific," he said. He was slated to go to Japan, and considered being a career man.

Bowden went back to the Waldoboro home he grew up in, "got married and raised five kids instead."

He started Bowden Egg Farm 1947. "My mother owned the place. I bought my father out while in the army and bought the rest from my mother when I got out of the army."

The Washington, D.C. trip with Honor Flights was Bowden's first opportunity to see the monuments and memorials. "It was very, very nice, I enjoyed it. We did a lot of flying. We flew from Florida to Maine to join the Maine contingent; flew to Washington and back and then the next day, we flew back to Florida," Bowden said.

"A lot of veterans, civilians and politicians came up and shook our hands," Bowden said. "It was an amazing reception we got," his daughter and escort Donna Davis said. His grandson Chad flew down on his own.

Once in Baltimore, their plane was sprayed with a tunnel of water, "just like visiting dignitaries," Davis said. Davis said there were "60 or more" members of the military there to greet them, including a female captain that had served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

They are all just as impressive as the others," Bowden said of the memorials.

He was impressed with the size of the Vietnam memorial. "The Arlington National Cemetery is all filled up. They are running out of space - over 600,000 veterans are buried there. Changing of guards was impressive. One fellow in the group had the honor of placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown because he lost his brother in Vietnam," Bowden said. The man had terminal cancer and was a veteran of the Vietnam War.

"One of the people I met up with was a retired commander. He learned to fly 26 different planes. I was impressed by that," Bowden said.

"The whole thing was very impressive," Bowden said of the Honor Flights program.

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