Tupelo veterans become celebrities at WWII Memorial

Lauren Wood | Daily Journal Tupelo residents Bill Webb, left, and Tom Prather were greeted by barricades when they visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight.

Lauren Wood | Daily Journal
Tupelo residents Bill Webb, left, and Tom Prather were greeted by barricades when they visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight.

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The government shutdown ran into an immovable object on Tuesday.

Make that 91 immovable objects. That was the number of veterans on a Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.

The itinerary called for a stop at the World War II Memorial, but it was barricaded because of the government shutdown that went in effect at midnight Tuesday.

“They didn’t know they were dealing with 91 old codgers who didn’t care if they got arrested or not,” said Tupelo resident Bill Webb, 89, an Army veteran of World War II. “That’s not why we fought all that time ago, to be closed up and barricaded up.”

Tom Prather, 89, of Tupelo, was a Navy Seabee in World War II, and he wanted to see the memorial that was dedicated to his service and that of his buddies.

“I asked a Park Service spokeswoman, ‘What would happen if I took the fence down and went in?’” Prather said. “She said, ‘Then the police would come arrest you.’”

Webb figured the police wouldn’t want anything to do with the veterans.

“They couldn’t have got all of us old men to jail,” he said with a laugh. “They would’ve had to kill some of us.”

Calls were made and the barricades were dropped for the Honor Flight veterans, with Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Alan Nunnelee among those escorting them in.

“The real reason I wanted to go was to see the World War II Memorial,” Prather said. “It was going to be a real disappointment until they let us in.”

They became automatic celebrities. Webb was interviewed by CNN, ABC and CBS, and Prather made it on NBC.

“They’d come up and say, ‘Can you take a minute? Can you answer some questions?’” Prather said. “Then, there they were with a camera and a microphone pointing right at you.”

They drove by the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial without stopping, but got to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

“The Lincoln Memorial and the Korean Memorial were closed,” Prather said.

Webb said his favorite stop was Arlington National Cemetery.

“The most impressive thing I saw was the changing of the guard. It was such precision,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”

Their time with Honor Flight was special from the start, and that included the airport early Tuesday morning.

“If you had on that honor flight shirt and cap, the TSA said, ‘OK, go through,’” Prather said. “I’m going to try that on my next trip.”

Webb probably got the wrong idea about the ease of air travel, because Tuesday’s Honor Flight was his first trip in an airplane.

“Never left the ground before,” he said.

Most of the veterans on their flight were from the Gulf Coast, but Tupelo, Belden, Amory, Nettleton, Pontotoc, Water Valley, Starkville and Ackerman were represented.

Prather and Webb, who returned home Wednesday afternoon, said they were celebrated everywhere they went with Honor Flight, which was a contrast to when they returned home from WWII. Prather’s dad met him at the train. Webb got a ride to his family’s farm from a cousin.

“No welcoming committee,” Webb said.

“This kind of makes up for that, in a way,” Prather said.

For more information about Honor Flight, visit www.mgchonorflight.org.

scott.morris@journalinc.com