The major highlight in a trip of highlights was when Lewis Armstrong got to help raise the flag at Ft. McHenry. It was the flag that Francis Scott Key wrote about in the “Star Spangled Banner.” Courtesy photo
By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Daily Leader
Sixty-five years after serving throughout the Pacific as a tail gunner in a B-24, Liberal’s Lewis Armstrong finally got to see the new memorial built just to honor America’s military men and women from World War II. His name was selected after a two-year wait to take an Honor Flight recently to Washington D.C. – free of charge.
“You know these people that do the Honor Flights operate only on donations, and I hope more people will continue to donate to them,” Armstrong said Thursday. “It’s really a neat thing.”
Armstrong, 84, left Liberal in the early morning hours April 29 and returned to Liberal four days later.
“I left for Garden City at 3 a.m. on the 29th and returned at 4 in the morning on Monday,” he said, with a chuckle.
In Garden City, he met with other Kansas World War II veterans who were then all bused to Denver to catch their Honor Flight to Baltimore, Md. Another Honor Flight of Kansans was departing Kansas City about the same time, and all the veterans of both flights were solely from Kansas, according to Armstrong.
“We got to the hotel in Baltimore at 6 p.m. and had to go to a banquet at 6:30,” Armstrong said.
Though it was an arduous journey with little time to catch up on rest, Armstrong didn’t regret a minute.
“It was really great. The next morning we first went to the World War II Memorial, that was the main thing, of course, for the trip,” he said. “The we had a choice of going to the Smithsonian for an hour or to the Holocaust Museum.
“Then we went to the Iwo Jima Memorial and over to Arlington National Cemetery. Then we went back to the World War II Memorial,” Armstrong added.
Though he didn’t join the military until near the end of the war (he was 18), his duty as a tail gunner took him into action from the Philippines to Formosa and an island near Okinawa.
“Our bomber was actually flying behind the plane (a B-29) that dropped the second bomb (Little Boy) on Japan,” he said. “We turned back and dumped all our bombs in the Pacific.”
In less than eight months, Armstrong was awarded two air medals. He doesn't remember exactly how many missions he flew, but an Army Air Corpsman earned an air medal every 10th mission.
Though Armstrong thoroughly enjoyed his Honor Flight, his feelings really got swept away when he and other veterans got to visit Ft. McHenry, where the U.S. Flag flew when Ft. McHenry was under siege and the captured Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” from a ship in the bay.
“Back then (1812), our Flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes during that battle,” Armstrong said. “And every day, at Ft. McHenry, they have a ceremony where they fly that big ol’ Flag, and we got to help.”
That Flag and it’s history moved Armstrong more than anything during the four days, he said.
“I know our memorial is something special, but that (Ft. McHenry) visit was very special to me,” he said.