by Morgan Montalvo
1200 WOAI News Radio
Forty more South Texas veterans of World War Two, The Korean War or the Vietnam Conflict are winging their way to the nation’s capital to visit their respective war memorials, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The contingent, which includes female veterans, is the latest group organized by Honor Flight San Antonio, in cooperation with corporate partner Southwest Airlines.
The veterans will depart in two groups, today and Saturday.
Among the Honor Flight guests are a 100-year-old World War Two infantryman and a Korean War veteran who was captured and spent 33 months in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisoner-of-war camps.
Several of the group gathered at the Courtyard by Marriott San Antonio Airport Hotel Thursday evening for their Honor Flight pre-takeoff briefing.
Centenarian David Rankin served as an infantryman with the 2nd Armored Division and fought across Western Europe. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, his unit pride is as strong as ever.
“Hitler’s best army was the 2nd Panzer Division,” Rankin recalls. “They never lost a battle. “They were supposedly equal to the 2nd Armored Division. We wiped them out in the Battle of the Bulge,” says Rankin who, in the later 1940s, joined the then-new U.S. Air Force, the successor to the wartime U.S. Army Air Forces.
While in the Air Force Rankin served in the U.S. and Europe as a crew chief for the B-29 Superfortress, the same type of aircraft that dropped atomic bombs on Japan.
Rankin is writing a book about his military career.
Former Korean War POW Manuel Ramirez of Laredo says after his confinement at the hands of the Communist North Koreans and Chinese, subsequent repatriation and retirement from a career in the South Texas oil fields, he became a recluse and “spent 18 hours a day watching television” to forget his time behind enemy barbed wire.
Then a local elected official and a staffer met and took an interest in Ramirez.
“I owe him my life, him and his secretary, because they helped me tremendously –and he’s still helping me now,” says Ramirez.
The pair, Ramirez says, helped him overcome his aversion to crowds and confined areas, and encouraged him to take up golf.
Recently, he says, his friends connected him with Honor Flight San Antonio. “I’m excited, I’m not scared,” says Ramirez, who has not flown in an airplane since the military flight that brought him home to Texas in 1953 following his release from captivity.
Ramirez says he’s making the pilgrimage to the Korean War Memorial on behalf of his old unit, his fellow POWs, and all veterans who, like him, have struggled re-adjusting to civilian life following a harrowing wartime odyssey.
Honor Flight San Antonio is part of Honor Flight Network, a national non-profit established in 2005 to transport America’s combat veterans to Washington, D.C. free of cost to visit their respective war memorials.
The organization originally was limited to serving World War Two veterans, but since has expanded to include veterans of the Korean War and Vietnam Conflict, and prioritizes veteran travel according to age and medical condition.
Honor Flight San Antonio has helped nearly 300 South Texas veterans make the Washington, D.C. trip.