Reunion on Pearl Harbor day

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Rusty Caldwell salutes as the Grand Junction Police chief’s honor guard posts the American flag during a Western Slope Honor Flight reunion Wednesday at Two Rivers Convention Center.

When Kenneth Allen heard the first bombs hitting Pearl Harbor 70 years ago, he thought it was probably part of maneuvers performed by the many soldiers who were receiving basic training in the area.

Just a few miles from the harbor, Allen, then 21, saw the Japanese planes bombing the naval base and quickly realized America was in trouble.

“I just always think about how lucky I was,” Allen said after being honored for his service Wednesday afternoon by those who attended the Western Slope Honor Flight Reunion.

Allen, 91, was unable to go on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., because of a health condition, but he felt honored to be included at the luncheon and recognized for his service to his country.

“I just really appreciate being asked to come,” he said. “I could never have imagined that this is what I’d be doing 70 years later.”

More than 650 veterans, guardians, media and special guests, including state Sen. Steve King, attended the luncheon at Two Rivers Convention Center to mark the final chapter in the Honor Flight mission.

“It’s just so bittersweet,” said Kris Baugh, president of the local Honor Flight organization. “It’s been one hell of a ride, and to think that it’s finally over is kind of hard to take.”

The program included lunch with entertainment provided by The Tonettes, vocalist Kodi Kirtland of Redlands Middle School and the fifth-grade class at Holy Family School.

Navy Reserve Cmdr. Gary Wilson was one of the event’s guest speakers. He reminded the audience of the events that took place at Pearl Harbor, which led to the U.S. involvement in the war and changed the lives of those in attendance.

“But what they (Japanese) hadn’t counted on was the courage and commitment of those seated in this room, the Greatest Generation,” he said.

Retired Air Force Col. James D. West told the veterans, “You have left a legacy on the lives of every man or woman who puts on a uniform today.”

The veterans gave a standing ovation to the Honor Flight board members and volunteers who worked tirelessly to make the flights a reality. More than $725,000 was raised for five flights that took more than 520 World War II veterans to Washington.

“Our gratitude will live on forever because nearly 70 years ago you did no less than save the world,” said John Camper, chief of the Grand Junction Police Department, in his closing remarks.

Veteran Fletcher Kehmeier said the trip was an experience of a lifetime, and he appreciated the nice luncheon.

“It has been inspiring and great to meet all of these people,” he said.


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