By Roy Spence
Veteran’s Day is Nov. 11. It is a federal holiday, a day set aside to honor those men and w omen who served their country in the armed forces, and it honors the service of all military veterans. Approximately 1,000 veterans of World War II live here in Central Texas, and we’re losing many of them each day. There are many of these veterans who have never seen or experienced the memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the service of the “Greatest Generation,” who fought, sacrificed and won that most noble war.
The Honor Flight Austin mission is to transport veterans to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices , and return them home to their families and loved ones. Our mission (should you choose to join me) is to get these proud veterans on an Honor Flight. And the time is now. I believe that we—the good men and women of Austin—are being called to serve in this mission. Recently, as part of a public -service campaign, our advertising agency, GSD&M volunteered to do a PS A in support of raising money for the Honor Flights.
I was honored to sit on the porch and film a conversation with Mr. Richard Overton. At the young age of 107, Mr. Overton is the oldest living World War II veteran in America, and he still lives strong and happy right here in Austin. He was born in 1906, and was drafted when he was 38. Mr. Overton spent his time in the service fighting for freedom in the Pacific, came home and built his house himself. He also built a life of hard work, humility, humor, service and love.
Most of all, Mr. Overton believed in living life to its fullest. He still drives his 1971 pickup for work and his 1971 Monte Carlo for church. He still smokes cigars and, on occasion, has a little shot of whiskey in his coffee. He still wakes up at all hours and goes out and sits on his awesome porch, where I had the privilege to join him to rock and chat for a spell.
Mr. Overton participated in Honor Flight visiting the World War II Memorial last spring. This wonderful hero is calling all of us to listen to the call of des tiny. I was the lucky son. I was called to take my dad to experience the emotionally charged courage and nobility of the World War II Memorial’s tribute to the Greatest Generation. My dad, Roy M. Spence Sr., served in the Navy Fleet Airwing 14/VR-12 in the Pacific. In May 2004, I flew him to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial.
What happened while we were there changed my life and made his complete. I was walking hand in hand toward the entrance of the memorial with this still strikingly handsome 6-foot-5-inch war veteran, who was wearing a World War II cap, when it first happened. Two women walked up respectfully and said, “We would love to get a picture with you and then give you a hug.” With my dad’s classic humor, he replied, “Of course, and I don’t want to be rude but since I am 90 years old, I would love the hug first, just in case, and then snap the picture.”
They hugged my dad and then I took several pictures of these women holding on to my dad. One of the women softly said as tears w ere welling up, “Our dad was killed in the war and we were little and did not know him that well. But we promised ourselves that we would come here and take pictures of World War ll veterans and hang them in our homes in honor of our father .”
Daddy bent down and hugged them again. And at that precise moment in time, a father long ago reunited with his precious daughters. This happened to us over and over again.
Today the oldest living veteran lives right here in Austin: Mr. Richard Overton. And he is calling us to share my dad’s and my experience with our World War II veterans by providing them with an Honor Flight. Time is of the essence. It is our last chance to lift up these veterans so they can set foot on the higher ground of the World War II memorial. It is our turn to answer the call so I am encouraging you to consider getting involved in Honor Flight. For more information or to make a donation, visit honorflightaustin.org. Journey to a higher ground.