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June 30, 2013

HONOR IN THE AIR: Clarksville resident makes first Honor flight to Washington, D.C.

CLARKSVILLE — Frank Spitznagel Jr. didn’t know if he was up for a trip to Washington, D.C. But with a little urging, he decided to travel with the Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter with other veterans to visit the various war memorials.

“I wasn’t too anxious about going,” said the 89-year-old World War II veteran of his trip earlier this month. “It didn’t seem like it interested me.”

However, Spitznagel said he is glad he decided to take the one-day flight with 25 other veterans to visit the nation’s capital.

“It was quite an experience,” he said.

This wasn’t the first time the Clarksville resident visited Washington, D.C., but it was the first time he toured the war memorials.

Not only are the veterans transported by plane at no charge, but they are cheered and treated “really well” during the trip, Spitznagel said. Even in airports, they are applauded and many travelers come up and shake their hands.

“One of the most memorable moments for me was at the end of the trip as we were making our way through the food court at the Baltimore-Washington airport. Anyone who travels much knows that passengers are always in a hurry and when they go to the food court, they just want to grab something to eat and walk to their gates to catch their flights,” said volunteer Stacie Shain, who is a communications instructor at Bellarmine University and a native of Southern Indiana. “But as we walked through the food court that evening, people saw the veterans and their Honor Flight Bluegrass shirts. They realized these men were heroes, and they started cheering.

“I nearly lost it as I watched people set aside their burgers and sandwiches and stand to applaud. It was so touching, so heart-warming and so deserved.”

Spitznagel said no one was applauding him in 1943 when he was drafted into the Army. He was sent to the baking division, although he had no kitchen experience. While training in England, he said his unit baked 575 pounds of bread every 15 minutes to send to various units throughout Europe. His unit eventually was sent to France, just days after the D-Day invasion. They continued to bake bread until the war ended in 1945.

“I guess we were thankful we weren’t sent to the front lines,” he said. “But we sure got tired of making that bread.”

Spitznagel said he didn’t know anyone on the flight. He said each veteran had a guide to help them, since 14 were in wheelchairs.

“I met some fellas that went,” he said. “Everyone treated me fine. It kind of surprised me how people acted. We would go through an airport and people would clap or shake our hand. It really made you feel good. It was amazing the way people acted toward us.”

Spitznagel said it was a full day in Washington D.C. He said when the travelers arrived back in Louisville, a large group of people were clapping and waving flags.

“It means a lot to me to watch the outpouring of support for these veterans,” Shain said. “They deserve every bit of it, and I love watching them take it all in. They will tell you something like, ‘I was just doing my job’ or ‘I was just doing what I had to do,’ but it was far more than that.

“They are the greatest generation, and they saved our way of life, and most likely, the world.”

Shain first became involved in the Honor Flight program in Colorado and this was her second trip to Washington, D.C., with the veterans. On this trip, she came up with the idea to work with a couple of the veterans to use Twitter.

“When I researched it, I couldn’t find any other time that veterans had tweeted live from an honor flight. I thought this would be a great way to connect the veterans to younger people,” she said. “Since we are losing these World War II veterans at a rate of close to 1,000 per day, I wanted to try to get their stories out to as many people as possible.

“Once we lose these veterans, we lose so much of our nation’s history. These men and women are walking, talking history and have so much to share.”

The first veteran selected to use Twitter was Charles Herd from Louisville, and his Twitter handle is ww2vetcharles. The second veteran selected was Hal Miller from Owensboro, and his Twitter handle is ww2vethal. They were selected because they not only had great stories, but they were willing to share these stories with the world, Shain said.

As for Spitznagel, he is glad to be back in Clarksville, but was happy he made the trip.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said.

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