Two local veterans recently went on what they consider to be a trip of a lifetime.
John Hamson, who grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts, and now lives in Brownstown, went on an Indy Honor Flight trip Sept. 5, while Del Powell, a Seymour native, went Oct. 31.
From the reception the night before at Plainfield High School to boarding an airplane the next morning to go sightseeing in and around Washington, D.C., both men said it’s an experience they will never forget.
“I think of it almost every day,” said Hamson, 91, who served in the United States Coast Guard. “It was a beautiful trip. I ranked it right up there with almost everything but the wedding with my wife. For me, it was a fabulous experience. Everyone in that group of volunteers that arranged that, they took care of you just like you were members of their family. It was the best. It was just really a thing of joy.”
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Powell, 84, a United States Army veteran, said it was an emotional experience.
“I probably shed more tears that day than I did all my life,” he said. “I could sit here and talk to you for two hours and never get it across to you what it was. You go to D.C. on vacation for a week, and you won’t see what I saw. It’s something you experience where you remember all of it. I appreciate the honor of going. I had a blast.”
Indy Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization created to honor Indiana’s veterans for all of their sacrifices, according to indyhonorflight.org.
Veterans, who don’t pay anything for the trip, are transported to the nation’s capital to visit and reflect at war memorials and see national monuments. Top priority is given to the senior veterans — World War II survivors and veterans who are terminally ill.
“Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation — and as a culturally diverse, free society,” the website states. “Now, with over 900 World War II veterans dying each day, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.”
For Hamson and Powell, their trips started with the reception at Plainfield High School for dinner, entertainment and time to meet other veterans. The next day, they were transported to the Indianapolis airport to board a plane.
At that airport and the one in Washington, D.C., hundreds of people of all ages were gathered to greet the veterans, and they were treated to performances by groups or individuals.
Each veteran could take an escort with them or be paired with one in Washington, D.C. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Carothers and his wife, Brenda, took Hamson to the Indianapolis airport and Andi Smith of Virginia volunteered to take him around the nation’s capital, while Chuck Thompson of Seymour served as Powell’s escort.
After visiting the National World War II Memorial, the veterans went to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to see the Tomb of the Unknowns and witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
That moment was special for Powell because he was one of four veterans selected to lay a wreath. Each trip was divided into four platoons — red, white, blue and gold — and one person from each platoon was chosen to participate.
“I almost passed out when I found out I was picked,” Powell said, smiling. “To be a veteran and get to lay a wreath, it was emotional is all I can tell you. How I was picked, I don’t know.”
Hamson said he also enjoyed the tour of Arlington.
“It was amazing,” he said. “All around that area, there were white stones, rows and rows and rows. It was unbelievable. It was sad to see so many graves.”
Another big moment for Hamson was meeting Bob Dole, a former United States senator, member of the House of Representatives and presidential candidate.
All veterans received a beige polo shirt with the Indy Honor Flight logo, a World War II veteran hat, a bag filled with goodies and a large image from their military service. Hamson also recently received a book filled with pictures of himself on the trip, and Powell said he expects to get one soon, too.
Before going on the trip, Powell said he had heard about Honor Flights. One night while visiting Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 in Seymour, someone was talking about Indy Honor Flight, and he decided it was time to go.
Hamson said he learned about Indy Honor Flight after reading about Voss and Sons Funeral Service sponsoring an event in April that included a showing of the documentary “Honor Flight” in the Seymour High School auditorium. Hamson attended the event and signed up to go on a trip.
“I had never heard of such a thing,” Hamson said. “I said, ‘Well, it sounds interesting.’ Then they showed the movie, and I said, ‘Well, that sounds really interesting.’ You couldn’t have asked for a better movie that showed all of the guys on the last day of their trip, and they were coming out and slapping each other on the back and having a good time. I was the first one to sign the slip.”
Hamson enlisted in the Coast Guard on his birthday, Aug. 12, 1942. He said he was initially “gung-ho” on joining the Marines before considering the Navy. He then saw a place that was looking for special category people, including those who could cook or type, to join the Coast Guard.
“I enlisted right then and there,” he said. “I went in an applied, and I came out with a sergeant rating.”
After attending boot camp in Cape Cod, Hamson returned to Boston for a few months and was promoted to yeoman second class, making $96 per month. That was a clerical position.
He later went to radio school in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he learned about coding and became a radioman. At the end of that program, the Coast Guard was given an order to build ships in Chicago, Those were small freighters to carry cargo for the Army in New Guinea.
Hamson was one of 21 men and four officers on the FS-528, which sailed down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and Progreso, Mexico, to learn all about the ship. They then went through the Panama Canal up to Los Angeles, and over to Hawaii before heading to New Guinea.
The crew spent a couple of years taking cargo to and from Army bases and ports, and Hamson worked his way up to radioman first class.
When the war was winding down in the United States’ favor, the FS-528 was decommissioned, and Hamson was put on a larger AK-80 ship, the USS Albireo. He started as a yeoman first class because the ship had plenty of radiomen, and he was in charge of the yeoman shack and followed the skipper on inspections.
One day in 1945, after attending church in Hollandia, Hamson and the other men received news.
“I turned on the radio, and I couldn’t believe it — the war was over,” he said. “We were the first ship in the harbor to start hooting our horns and ringing the bells. Pretty soon, another ship heard it. Pretty soon, every ship in the harbor was all excited.”
Hamson was transferred to a base in Yokosuka, Japan, for a few months before he headed back home. He was assigned six other Coast Guardsmen and was responsible for getting them discharged in Boston.
Once he was released in 1946, he enrolled in classes at Boston University. In three years, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
During that time, Hamson and eight of his friends went to a football game, where they met up with 11 girls. Soon after, Hamson invited one of the girls, Lillian, to go to a show with him. He later married her, and they wound up having four children.
“Out of all the 11 girls that I had seen, she caught my eye,” Hamson said. “I called her up and asked her to go to a show. We went, and from then on, there was nobody else on the planet for me.”
After college, Hamson worked for a local furniture company in Lynn before spending about 30 years at a couple of printing companies and warehouses in Boston. Lillian was a private secretary for the manager of two General Electric plants in Massachusetts.
While Hamson was serving with the Coast Guard, his sister, Eunice, was a lieutenant in the Navy Nurse Corps and worked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She wound up marrying a nurse, John Frederick, who was from Brownstown.
Once she was married, Eunice had to get out of the service, and she and her husband moved to Brownstown and wound up having 11 children. Throughout the years, Hamson visited his sister and family in Brownstown, and he later moved there after his wife died.
Powell graduated midterm from Shields High School in Seymour in 1949 and said he initially wanted to go into the Air Force. But, he ended up enlisting in the Army and completed basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
One night, when he was at ordnance school in Aberdeen, Maryland, he was put on an airplane to Germany.
“I didn’t even know where I was going,” he said.
Powell ended up serving with an ordnance company during the Occupation of Europe Germany.
“Our primary goal was getting civilians out because (the Germans) were having trouble with the Russians at the time,” he said.
That included helping clean up the Dachau concentration camp.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that there was no Holocaust because I saw it,” Powell said, noting the area where people were gassed and put into a furnace. “I’ve been sick in my life three times, and that was one of them. Because of the smell and the brick, I’ll bet that it’s still there today, and that’s been 60-some years ago. It was horrible.”
In 1951, Powell’s service was extended a year. He left in November 1952.
“When I got there, everything was flat, bombed out, people living in bombed-out shelters and basements of houses and no food. It was just terrible,” he said. “But Frankfurt, Germany, looked like New York City when I left.”
Powell got married in December 1952, and he and his wife lived in Delaware for about 20 years and had three children. He worked for Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. and later had his own delicatessen.
When he moved back to Seymour in 1972, he was owner/operator of his own semitrailer until 1995. He has had several jobs since then and now works at Jay C Food Store on the city’s west side.
Indy Honor Flight recognizes veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by sending them to Washington, D.C., to see their war’s memorial.
Top priority is given to World War II and terminally ill veterans from all wars.
Guardians are supplied to go along with veterans to provide assistance and help them have a safe, memorable and rewarding experience.
For information about going on an Indy Honor Flight trip or making a donation, call 317-559-1600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.