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World War II veteran Buford Henry with his daughter Cheryl Johnson, who accompanied Henry as his guardian on a June Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
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Henry and other Honor Flight participants visited many of the capital’s monuments and memorials, including the Washington Monument.
ALTON — Honor Flights to Washington, D.C., give military veterans the gratitude and recognition they deserve for their service to our country.
The trips allow former service personnel to tour our nation’s monuments and memorials, enjoying the sites while gaining a sense of closure with their experiences.
Few could argue honor and recognition are deserved by anyone more than Buford Henry. During his World War II Army duty from 1943 to 1945, Henry fought on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion and in the Battle of the Bulge. He also assisted in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Now age 93, Henry was only 20 when he enlisted in 1943. He was the only boy in his family. Having nine sisters, he could have received a deferment from military service. He chose instead to enlist and serve the country during the war’s most severe conflicts.
When he flew to the nation’s capital June 7 with a group of veterans on the Honor Flight, it was the first time he’d been on an airplane since his service days.
“The experience was terrific,” he said.
His daughter Cheryl Johnson accompanied him as his guardian and said the event was first class from beginning to end.
“The amount of planning and preparation they put into these trips is unbelievable,” she said.
After landing in Baltimore, a police escort led the veterans to Washington, D.C., and the monuments within the city.
“There is no way we could have gone everywhere we did that day if police had not stopped traffic for us,” Johnson said.
The group toured sites such as the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. At the Tomb of the Unknowns, they had front-row seats for the changing of the guard.
Particularly special to Henry because of his combat experiences was the Freedom Wall at the World War II Memorial. The wall has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 American military deaths in the war.
Henry traveled to Europe during his Army tour by British cargo ship on an 11-day voyage to Scotland. The journey was particularly perilous because of the ever-present danger of German U-boats. He vividly remembers the bagpipe players who welcomed the Americans when they arrived.
“The people there were so grateful to see us,” he said.
Upon returning to the St. Louis airport after the Honor Flight, the veterans were greeted by bagpipe players, stirring distant memories of that original trip. The veterans were also welcomed home in St. Louis by hundreds of people who had come out simply to cheer their return and show their appreciation.
A mail call was held at the airport, where Henry received hundreds of cards and letters from senators, congressmen, schoolchildren, neighbors and people who simply wanted to say “thank you.”
Discharged in 1945 as a corporal, Henry went on to complete four years of carpenter’s school. In civilian life, he worked as a union carpenter in the area for 55 years.
Henry and his wife, Marie, will be married 60 years in December. They have 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. He lives in Jerseyville.