Four Carroll County veterans go on Honor Flight

Tuesday, May 2, 2017
(From left) Veterans Gus Midden of Eureka Springs and Richard Keller, John McCauley and Ray Backs of Berryville were invited on an Honor Flight to Washington on Tuesday, April 18. The four were part of a group of 71 Arkansas and Oklahoma veterans who were flown to the capital and taken on a tour of the nation’s war memorials.
Submitted photo

Four Carroll County veterans were invited on an Honor Flight to Washington on Tuesday, April 18, taking in the sights around the nation’s capital.

Ray Backs, Richard Keller and John McCauley of Berryville and Gus Midden of Eureka Springs were among the 71 Arkansas and Oklahoma veterans invited for the Honor Flight. Traveling with the group were 71 assistants, known as Guardians, to help veterans as needed on the trip.

The group gathered at the Cherokee Hotel and Casino just west of Siloam Springs on April 18 for a banquet and a special sendoff ceremony in the hotel auditorium, where hundreds of well-wishers applauded as each name was called. The program also featured prayer and music.

Keller said McCauley’s daughter drove the Berryville veterans to the hotel while Midden’s son from St. Louis accompanied him. Everyone was provided free deluxe rooms that night by the Cherokee Casino Hotel, he said.

Backs, owner of Ray’s Barber Shop on the Public Square, served as a corpsman on a Navy hospital ship during the Korean War. Keller, former owner of Keller’s Country Dorm Resort, served as an electronics division officer in the Naval Air Force at the end of World War II and served again during the Korean War. McCauley, who worked at Claridge Products and Equipment Inc. in Harrison until retiring in Berryville, served in the Army Infantry during the Korean War. Midden served in the Army during the Korean War.

The veterans had breakfast at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, April 19, and boarded buses to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at Highfill. The group was escorted by a long line of law-enforcement vehicles, motorcycles and fire trucks with lights flashing and sirens sounding. Hundreds of cheering people and choirs gave the veterans a rousing sendoff before their departure to Washington.

After a three-hour flight, the group arrived at the Reagan Washington National Airport on the Potomac River. A large contingent of greeters welcomed the veterans to the city, including Miss Maryland.

The veterans boarded three buses and began their sightseeing journey, stopping first at the National World War II Memorial. Janet Huckabee, wife of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, took photos with the veterans at the memorial. Keller said she was a volunteer guardian for one of the veterans on the trip.

The group’s next stop included three adjacent memorials: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The veterans then took a trip back across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard and a wreath-laying ceremony.

Nearby, the veterans visited the Marine Corps War Memorial. Finally, the group visited the newest memorial: the Air Force Memorial. The veterans were then driven around the Pentagon and back to Reagan Airport, where they were met with enthusiastic supporters who led them in a dance to nostalgic mid-century band music until their departure for home.

Upon their return, the veterans were welcomed back by a crowd of cheering people and choirs.

The entire trip was unforgettable, Keller said, and every veteran is encouraged to apply to to see if they are eligible for the free once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Honor Flight program began in 2005 and has benefited more than 150,000 veterans across the nation. There are nearly 130 hubs or airports from which similar charter flights are flown, each generally offering two flights a year. Anyone interested in donating to the Honor Flight program or volunteering as a Guardian, at their own expense, to accompany a veteran can visit to get the full details.

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