Honor Flight takes Kentucky veterans to D.C. to visit war memorials

jwarren@herald-leader.comOctober 7, 2012 

George Garrison helped save a badly wounded buddy during World War II; the high point of the war for Lee Newsome was when his ship carried 800 former prisoners of war to safety.

Now, the two have shared another big moment in common.

Newsome, Garrison and about 28 other World War II and Korean War veterans from Kentucky flew to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to visit the World War II Memorial and other national memorials dedicated to those who served the nation in war.

The trip was a joint effort by Kentucky's Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Honor Flight Network, a group that has been flying veterans to Washington since 2005.

Garrison, 93, of Lincoln County, visited the World War II memorial a few years ago, but he said Sunday evening that this trip was "fantastic. I can't remember when I've had so much fun and enjoyed a trip so much."

Garrison, who is in the American Legion and goes to military funerals as an honor guard, wore his Legion uniform on the trip.

"You talk about getting attention. I did," Garrison said. And he thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. "Even got a kiss or two."

The highlight for him: meeting retired U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and his wife, Elizabeth Dole, at the memorial.

"I even had my picture taken with Elizabeth," Garrison said.

For Newsome, 87, of Richmond, this was his first trip to Washington and to the World War II Memorial.

The war provided twists and turns for both men.

Garrison, an army infantryman, sailed through the Panama Canal on a crowded troop ship, and he served in Hawaii and trained in New Guinea for jungle warfare. He then headed for the Philippines, where his ship sailed into a dust storm at sea.

"It was a volcanic eruption on land, and the ash had drifted out to sea," he said. "You couldn't see your hand in front of your face in the middle of the afternoon."

The Navy also sent Newsome to the Pacific, where he initially served on a minesweeper before being assigned to the USS Bracken, an attack transport. It was a lucky job change: the minesweeper was sunk at Okinawa soon after Newsome left it.

His new ship then trained for the planned invasion of Japan, but Newsome got lucky again. The war ended, and the Bracken was ordered to Yokohoma to pick up 800 British troops who'd been in Japanese prisoner of war camps for more than three years.

"They were in pretty bad shape," Newsome said. "Most of them weighed 100 pounds or less. It was probably the worst sight of the whole war, as far as I was concerned."

Newsome's ship took the liberated POWs to safety in Manila, where they were later picked up by British ships and taken home. After Newsome himself got home, he received a 10-page thank-you letter from one of the British soldiers he'd met on the Bracken. He still has the letter.

"The war was really something," Newsome said. "I was just a kid, barely 18. I was scared, frightened, homesick, you name it."

Garrison said he was scared, too. But he also said being in the war was high adventure for a country boy like him.

"I'd never been outside the state of Kentucky until I went into the Army," he said. "I didn't know the world was out there until then."

Garrison's initiation into war came quickly. His troopship was attacked by Japanese planes as it arrived in the Philippines. It wasn't hit, but a nearby vessel was damaged by a suicide plane.

Garrison's outfit, the 38th Division, was sent to train on the Philippine island of Leyte but quickly went into combat against Japanese paratroops who had made surprise landings there.

"It was the monsoon, raining so hard that when you dug a foxhole it would be full of water before you got it finished," he said.

Garrison's unit then took on the Japanese again in what was called the Battle of Zig Zag Pass. During that fight, he helped rescue another Kentucky soldier who had been wounded in the arm and foot. Garrison was awarded the Bronze Star.

"You didn't know from one day to the next what was coming," he said. "You'd bed down in a foxhole for the night, get up in the morning, shake the dirt off, and start advancing again. It got to a lot of people."

Staff writer Janet Patton contributed to this report.

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