At 84 years old J.C. Guntharp of Fulton had served during the second World War, put his life on hold in service of the Flag, but he had never visited his country’s capital.
Call it a circumstance or fate – his daughter, Candy Horton of Mantachie, calls it stubborn refusal to leave Fulton – but Guntharp had never visited the monuments built to honor men like him, soldiers who cut away pieces of their lives for the welfare of all. That changed over Memorial Day weekend.
“It was beautiful,” Guntharp said, speaking specifically of the National World War II Memorial in the National Mall. “It was hard to look at, but it was beautiful.”
Guntharp was one of 99 World War II vets who traveled to Washington, D.C., and back in a single day. As part of the 11th and final flight of Honor Flight Tennessee Valley, a nonprofit group based out of Huntsville that carried veterans like Guntharp to the nation’s capital, Guntharp was able to see the heart of the land he defended.
Guntharp and the group flew out of Huntsville-Decatur National Airport in the early morning hours of May 29 to great fanfare. Hundreds of people attended a grand ceremony honoring the vets prior to takeoff. Each veteran received a personal attendant for the journey, as well as a small collection of souvenirs to take home with them. Each individual was also honored by name, and the 747 in which they traveled was escorted by a flock of F16s.
An hour and a half after takeoff, the plane landed in D.C. Guntharp and the other vets were whisked to the capital’s myriad memorials and monuments – from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington Cemetery. It was a lot to take in, Guntharp said, breathtaking in both scope and quickness with which it all happened.
He said the volunteer staff of Honor Flight was especially kind during the entire journey, helping the veterans every step of the way.
“You couldn’t have found a nicer group of people,” he said.
After the tour, the veterans traveled home, giving Guntharp time to ponder the bittersweet experience.
“It was sad, but it was glad, too,” he said. “It makes me feel bad for my friends who couldn’t go. They would have loved to have seen it.”
The end of a journey
“It’s just been unreal,” Horton said of the effort to get her father to Washington, D.C. “So many people have just donated so much time and money to make this possible.”
Although Honor Flight Tennessee Valley may have hosted Guntharp’s trip to Washington D.C. by chartering the plane and setting up the caregivers, it was his daughter who made it all possible. When the plane rose from the airport that morning in late May, it was culmination of a two-year effort.
“We’d have taken him ourselves, but the trip would have been a week long,” Horton said. She rolled her eyes toward her father and added, “I knew he wouldn’t stay away from Fulton, Mississippi, for a week.”
In an effort to get her father to D.C., Horton signed him up for an Honor Flight organization based out of Tupelo. Unfortunately, the group didn’t garner strong enough support, and the flight never took off.
“I was very disappointed when the first one didn’t go,” she said. “I was determined to figure something out.”
When she heard about the Huntsville-based Honor Flight, Horton placed her father’s name on the list immediately. She didn’t tell her father, so it was a tremendous surprise when he found out he had been accepted as part of the organization’s last flight.
“Candy worked really hard to make this possible,” Guntharp said of his daughter, smiling.
“It was worth all the hard work,” she replied. Her father returned from his trip beaming, was escorted through a line of U.S. flags to the cacophony of applause from more than 3,000 people. He was honored as a hero, nothing less than he deserved.
“He was king for a day,” she said.
Contact Adam Armour at (662) 862-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times