Del City veteran travels to D.C. to see memorial
Oklahoma Honor Flights organizes third trip to capital
By Tim Farley
When John Houell Sr. was fighting for his life in the Battle of the Bulge, he wasn’t thinking about celebrations and ceremonies that would occur years later. He was trying to stay alive in a town full of German soldiers.
Houell, of Del City, was part of the Army’s 70th Infantry Division that participated in a key battle in Wingen, France, a small town nestled in the Hardt Mountains.The small, quiet village was quickly transformed in January 1945 as houseto-house fighting ensued between German forces and two U.S Army infantry regiments that had just arrived in the European Theater.
Houell, whose duties were to string telephone lines for military outposts, said he was at the southern end of the battle that started badly when more than 200 American soldiers and officers were captured, injured or killed. The tide turned the next day for the Americans as they rescued the captured soldiers and eventually won the battle.
Houell and 96 other World War II veterans from Oklahoma were recognized at an Honor Flight ceremony
May 3 for their military service. The next day, the veterans boarded a plane that took them to see the World War II monument and other war memorials in Washington, D.C. The ceremony was held at Rose State College’s Performing Arts Center.
The Honor Flight mission is to transport World War II veterans to the nation’s capital so they can visit the memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. Current estimates show less than 3 million of the 16 million soldiers who served in World War II are still living. Officials with the Honor Flight network say their goal is to take all living World War II vets to see the monuments.
Prior to the May 3 ceremony, the 88-year-old Houell said he was excited to see the war memorials.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “I missed the last one (Honor Flight) because I was in the hospital. I’m just thrilled. I look forward to seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Washington monument, the U.S. Capitol and of course the World War II memorial. It’s the reason we’re going.”
Donald Aycock of Lawton served with the 18th Field Artillery, which he said was the only rocket unit to serve in Germany. He was among the thousands of soldiers who landed on Normandy’s beaches on June 7, 1944, as part of the D-Day Invasion. Later in the war, the 18th Field Artillery became embroiled in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, where more than 24,000 soldiers were killed, injured, captured or went missing.
“I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I’m proud of what we did,” he said.
Aycock, who turns 90 on October 7, said he went to Arlington Cemetery 30 years ago, but has never seen all of the memorials in Washington, D.C.
“I applied (for the Honor Flight) last year, but I wasn’t old enough,” he said with a smile.
Aycock said he’s proud to have been part of the generation that fought in World War II.
“I lived through some pretty scary deals,” he said. “I came back without a scratch.”
Last week’s flight was the third for Oklahoma veterans. Another one is scheduled for October.
Gov. Mary Fallin attended the May 3 ceremony and she thanked the World War veterans for their “commitment to this nation.”
“Thank you for fighting evil and standing up against it,” she said.
Rep. Gary Banz (R, Midwest City) and his wife, Linda, are two of the organizers. Before introducing each veteran, Linda Banz said, “So why do we do this? I’m going to give you 97 reasons.”
Each veteran stood as his name was called and Linda Banz read aloud their hometown, the military branch they served in and the major military honors they received.
“In God’s providence, you are here representing those you served with and those who did not come home,” she said.
The audience applauded continuously for about 10 minutes as the veterans, some in wheelchairs and other aided by walkers, were escorted into the college’s Performing Arts Center, and seated for the ceremony.
As an added tribute, the Townsend Elementary School choir sang “Thank You Soldiers” to close the ceremony. Midwest City Mayor Jack Fry served as the event’s emcee.
Oklahoma Honor Flights was organized in 2009 as an official affiliate of Honor Flight Network. Oklahoma became the 31st state to begin an organization to support the national effort. Since its inception in 2005, the Honor Flight Network nationwide has transported 35,996 veterans to the war memorials in Washington, D.C.
top Audience members applaud World War II veterans during a ceremony at Rose State May 3.
bottom Gary Banz