Area resident serves as guardian on ‘Honor Flight’

(Courtesy photos) Vietnam War veteran Calvin Murphy, of Kaleva (left), stands with Greatest Generation veteran Richard Rizzio, of Traverse City, at the Michigan marker of the World War I Memorial in  Washington D.C.

(Courtesy photos)
Vietnam War veteran Calvin Murphy, of Kaleva (left), stands with Greatest Generation veteran Richard Rizzio, of Traverse City, at the Michigan marker of the World War I Memorial in
Washington D.C.

The Vietnam War still aches in Calvin Murphy’s mind, and heart.

Memories of his buddies, the battles, their brotherhood and bravery, still bring him to tears.

Murphy, now 67, will tell you he’s never been able to clear the fogs of war from his memory, and that he often – almost daily – thinks back to when he served his country in that far off Southeast Asian war zone 47 years ago.

He remembers his buddies, and the battles.

And he remembers their brotherhood, and bravery.

All of which has left such an imprint on his life that Murphy continues to help veterans of all ages, still today.

Calvin Murphy (left) is flanked by WWII veteran Richard Rizzio at the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

Calvin Murphy (left) is flanked by WWII veteran Richard Rizzio at the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

Murphy recently signed on to be a “guardian” – a comrade, consultant and chaperone all in one, if you will – of a World War II veteran who was making his first trip to Washington D.C. to visit the various monuments and tombs that help define the nation’s capital city.

Wherever Richard Rizzio went in Washington, Murphy went with him. Whatever tomb or monument the elderly man from Traverse City reached out to touch, Murphy reached out with him. And whenever Rizzio’s eyes moistened, Murphy cried with him.

“Seeing these World War II vets at the monument was the most emotional thing I have ever witnessed,” Murphy said.

He and about five dozen other “guardians” recently traveled to Washington with as many veterans of the Greatest Generation, the latter being guests of a special national program called “Honor Flight.”

Now a decade old, “Honor Flight” provides air transportation to Washington D.C. and back, free of charge, to those WWII veterans who want to see the various monuments, but especially, the monument dedicated to those who served in the Second World War.

Those “guardians” who fly with them – one assigned to each veteran, like Murphy – pay their own airfare.

“The ones who were seeing these things for the first time just broke down,” Murphy said. “They were thinking, always thinking, about their fellow soldiers who did not make it.”

From being guests of the all expenses paid “Honor Flight” program, to the police escorts they received, to being thanked by stranger after stranger as they stood at the various monuments and memories, Murphy said the WWII veterans were amazed – and sometimes even caught off guard and embarrassed – by all the attention being paid to them.

“A lot of them could not understand why so much fuss was being made over them,” Murphy said.

“It was such an honor to go with them. I cannot express the pride (I feel) to have gone.”

Murphy said Rizzio was left near speechless by the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Others had difficulty in expressing their gratitude, too.

Jack Rakoczy, 90, of Grand Rapids, traveled through Manistee the day after their visit to Washington D.C. was over.

As he sat in Manistee with longtime friend Eddie Staskiewicz, 95, also of Grand Rapids, the two talked about their trip with the “Honor Flight.”

Richard Rizzio stands near the grave of Army Second Lieutenant Audie Murphy, recipient of the Medal of Honor, a veteran of World War II and one of the most decorated U.S. soldiers in history.

Richard Rizzio stands near the grave of Army Second Lieutenant Audie Murphy, recipient of the Medal of Honor, a veteran of World War II and one of the most decorated U.S. soldiers in history.

“It was touching, very touching,” said Rakoczy, who served in the U.S. Army from 1943-45. “What did I like best about it? Everything. I liked everything. I loved everything.”

Staskiewicz, who served in the U.S. Air Force during WWII, reached down and tapped the table in front of him.

“It was very, very, very, great,” Staskiewicz said. “The people lined up with flags for us. People thanked us and shook our hands. The whole thing was out of this world.”

Today, the “Honor Flight” program has grown to have about 130 “hubs” in more than 40 states, including Michigan. Since its inaugural flight in 2005, the program has transported an estimated 100,000 WWII veterans to Washington.

One week ago, three such flights converged on Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns, gathering at the same time.

Spc. Riley Krebsbach, who serves as a Tomb Guard and who has earned the prestigious Tomb Guard Identification Badge – only 11 or so are awarded each year – said he always goes out to talk to the WWII veterans whenever he’s not guarding the tomb.

“It humbles me to meet them,” Riley said. “Everything we have today is due to the sacrifices they made. I am honored – always honored – to meet them, and to be able to thank them.”

Murphy echoed the young sentinel’s words.

“I know I feel humbled to be around them, too,” Murphy said of the WWII veterans. “We are losing these men (of the Greatest Generation), so fast. We owe them so much.”

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Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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