Richard “Dick” Stoops, center foreground, salutes during a ceremonry at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Stoops set a wreath on a stand in front of the imposing site as part of the Texas Panhandle Honor Flight group that traveled to Washington in September 2013. Courtesy photo
Stoops visits war memorials in Capitol
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Sgt. First Class Richard “Dick” Stoops was selected to participate in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Stoops set a wreath on a stand in front of the imposing site as part of the Texas Panhandle Honor Flight group that traveled to Washington in September 2013.
The opportunity for the public to take part in wreath-laying or other memorial services has actually been made a part of federal law, outlined in Title 32 U.S. Code of Federal Regulation Section 553.22. However, doing so is a coveted honor that must be arranged through the proper channels.
Requests are accepted six months to a year in advance of the group's visit, but must be submitted at least five weeks in advance. In Stoops’ case, the organizer of the Honor Flight tour selected him as the official representative for the ceremony.
Stoops also presented a wreath at the Korean War Memorial, as he is a veteran of that war.
Richard “Dick” Stoops walks the halls at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School recently making sure students and staff are secure. L&T photo/Rachel Coleman
Preserving the memories
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Longtime Liberal resident Richard “Dick” Stoops has been around the block a time or two. The decorated Korean War veteran volunteered for a second stint in the armed forces, serving as supply sergeant at the local Kansas Army National Guard post. After retirement, he signed on with the Liberal Police department as a supply officer, where he looked after “his” men for years, making sure their equipment and uniform orders were filled promptly and correctly. He retired again — and a few months later, he took a job as a security officer at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, where he continues to make rounds, lock facilities and keep order.
Stoops will turn 81 in May.
But despite all his service for country and his fellow man, there was one thing Stoops had never done — until last year.
“I had never been back to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials,” Stoops said. “Oh, I’d been there when I was in the service, but that was it.” During one of his trips to the Veterans Administration Clinic in Amarillo, Texas, a friend told Stoops to check into the Texas Panhandle Honor Flight program.
“It’s great,” the friend said. “They take three days, not just one, to see everything. And it doesn’t matter that you’re from Kansas, if they have room and you’re an eligible veteran, they’ll take you, too.”
A few months later, Stoops boarded a plane with a group of 141 veterans who had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His daughter, a registered nurse, joined him for the journey as the official companion the program requires each vet to bring along. Supplied with matching polo shirts to identify them as a group, the men set out for Baltimore, where they would stay to rest and recuperate after each busy day of sightseeing in the Capitol.
Stoops, a rare non-Texan on the trip, quickly found common ground with his fellow travelers.
“I was a Yankee, but we were all servicemen,” he said. “I met a lot of friends, guys that were in Korea when I was.”
Though he’d never met any of his Honor Flight travelers before, Stoops said, “We remembered the same things. We fought in the same places.”
As Stoops recounts his journey, he pages through a scrapbook assembled by his daughter, who took more than 600 photographs during the trip. Using fabric like U.S. Army fatigues, Stoops’ daughter gave the scrapbook a military cover, complete with patches and insignia from her father’s own days in the service.
Stoops pauses to admire a snapshot of the grave of Audie Murphy, one of the most-decorated combatants in World War II.
“I got to meet him when I lived in California,” he muses. “He had earned every medal the Army issues.”
Stoops points out a photo of the “Kansas” pillar at the WWII monument, and another picture of himself, standing in front of the Vietnam War Memorial with a rubbing he made.
“The Honor Flight people will send that to the family of that soldier,” he says.
At the photographs of the Korean War Memorial, Stoops nods in approval at the design. Sculpted figures of servicemen rise from plantings of landscaping greens. Crouched as if to avoid enemy fire, the figures evoke a feeling of fierce momentum.
“That’s how it was,” he says. “We fought mostly in ponchos. It was always raining.”
A paratrooper who lived by the motto, “why walk when you can jump in,” Stoops was wounded twice and retains vivid memories of the Korean combat. The trip to Washington brought those times back to his mind, especially as he talked with fellow veterans.
Still, he said, the experience was positive.
“You gotta live with your memories,” he said. Whether the recollections return in nightmares or a sense of tension, echoes of wartime cannot dictate everyday life. At least, Stoops said, “That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
Having taken the journey back, Stoops is a great advocate of the Texas-based Honor Flight program.
“They’re sharp, they do it right,” he said. “The trip didn’t cost me anything. It didn’t matter that I’m from Kansas — a veteran’s a veteran. Any veteran who’d like to go should contact the Texas Panhandle Honor Flight in Amarillo. They’ll take them.” Tammy Lewis, who can be reached at phone number 806-570-3677, is the contact person.
Stoops said the value of such pilgrimages goes beyond the individual veterans who make them. Their presence at the memorials, with their companions and as they return home with photographs and stories of the trip, all work to keep the American spirit alive. That’s because the memorials in Washington are designed to preserve the memory of what all Americans should value.
“It reflects on what we did for the country. Freedom is not free,” he said. “The heroes are the dead ones. We remember what they did. They stayed behind. I think it’s only fitting that we pass this on.”