Spokane vets tour World War II memorial
WASHINGTON, D.C. – World War II veteran David Garinger’s harmonica rendition of “The Marine’s Hymn” had a sweet pitch as he paused during a weekend visit to Hains Park in the nation’s capital.
Garinger and another Spokane-area World War II veteran, Kenny Hitchcock, were among a small group of veterans from across the country to visit the World War II Memorial for the first time Saturday. Their trip, which included other Washington memorials as well, was sponsored by Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting veterans to the nation’s capital to see the memorials built in their honor.
“You can’t realize what it’s like until you get here,” said Garinger. “You can see it on TV, but they’ve done a magnificent job putting this together.”
The veterans were greeted at the memorial by fellow service members and former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. Hitchcock and Garinger took pictures of quotes from President Franklin Roosevelt etched into the stone pillars. As they toured through the 56 pillars representing the states and territories that were united, the veterans received handshakes and hugs from other visitors sharing a piece of history.
“I know that my freedom didn’t come free,” said one 14-year-old boy who approached Garinger and Hitchcock with his father.
Hitchcock, a lifelong Spokane-area resident, was drafted into the service immediately after high school in 1944. During the war he saw combat and drove a “deuce-and-a-half,” or a 21/2-ton truck. He contracted diphtheria and spent one to two months in a French school that had been converted into a hospital. He also witnessed the horror of Dachau concentration camp.
“I was in on the capture of Dachau. I was there before the shooting stopped at the front gate,” Hitchcock said. “You have some of that inside you always.”
Garinger, who retired to Spokane in 1998, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right before he would have entered his senior year of high school.
He was sent overseas in 1944 and worked with motor transport in the Russell Islands. Garinger had carpentry and mechanical skills, among others.
The pair returned to Spokane on Sunday afternoon, along with Tony Lamanna, president of Inland Northwest Honor Flight, who accompanied them on the trip.
Honor Flight was established in 2005 by Earl Morse, a physician’s assistant at a veterans hospital who realized many of his patients would never get to see the memorials built to their service. Morse, an Air Force Veteran, started organizing private planes to fly the veterans to Washington, D.C.
The organization has since grown to using commercial flights and has helped more than 17,000 veterans see their memorials. Southwest Airlines is the official sponsor. The trips are free for the veterans.
Lamanna, a Spokane police officer, said he started the Spokane hub because of his “passion about World War II history and reverence for the veterans.” He and his four board members are unpaid.
Lamanna hopes to receive enough interest and fundraising support to be able to take 25 veterans per trip. Inland Northwest Honor Flight is one of 71 hubs for the national organization, and the only one in Washington state.
While in D.C., veterans also visit the Vietnam and Korean War memorials, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Air Force and Navy memorials.
“I bet a big percentage of us will look at life for the better,” Hitchcock said.
Garinger and Hitchcock, who met on the Honor Flight, plan to stay in touch and have already decided on a central meeting location between Garinger’s home in the Latah Valley and Hitchcock’s South Hill residence.