Every year an organization called Honor Flight takes 25 Armed Service veterans to Washington D.C. for a weekend trip to see the capital and meet some of the local Congressmen and Senators.
This year, 87-year-old Clint "Doc" Hickman, of Canby, was a trip member based on his Marine service in the mid-1950s.
And at 87-years-old, Doc wasn't the oldest service member on the trip. There was a man who was 97. Later, Melissa McPartland told the Herald that, "Last year we had a man who was 99."
McPartland is one of the board members of Portland Honor Flight and she was the other Marine on the tour. She's also one of the board members who helps make arrangements for, and sometimes travels with, the former soldiers.
"Every year the schedule changes a bit," McPartland said, but it's still a two-day trip with a lot of walking thrown in. There are 25 veterans, each with a guardian. The trip includes medical personnel — a doctor and a nurse — as well as three members of Honor Flight.
None of the veterans pay for the trip; all transportation, meals and hotels are paid for by Honor Flight. All of the money is donated to the Honor Flight group. The guardians pay their own way. Doc's guardian, Teddy Williams, is a firefighter for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue. His union paid for his portion. While not a member of the Armed Services, Williams's heroics include a time when he saved a family from a fire rescuing two parents, a young girl and a cat.
The trip meant a lot to Hickman. He first heard about it from his sister and brother-in-law. He was put on the list as a standby and when another veteran became ill, McPartland put Doc in his place.
To get on the list, veterans must submit an application, in some cases veterans are listed as standbys and get on the trip if someone becomes ill or can't make it. There are three different areas in Oregon that make one or two trips per year. Doc's trip, and others come from this region that includes Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Hood River, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Washington and Yamhill counties.
Their day started at 3 a.m. when they got up, headed to PDX and got on their plane. Their trip took them through stops in Las Vegas and Kansas City before arriving in D.C.
The next morning they began seeing Washington D.C., including the Word War II Memorial, had lunch and a tour of the Capitol Building and also visited the Lincoln Memorial. While at the Capitol Building, they met with local Congressional Representatives Susan Bonamici and Kurt Schrader, who thanked them for their service and talked with them without discussing politics.
They also visited Arlington National Cemetery and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Four of the veterans participated in placing a wreath at that soldier's tomb.
The cemetery itself was surprising to Doc.
"All this time whenever I saw that cemetery in a picture or on TV the land looked flat and went on forever," he said. "It's not flat, there are all kinds of hills throughout it. I expected it to be flat, but it wasn't."
The next day they visited other memorials for the Armed Services including the Navy, Air Force, Army, Iwo Jima, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lincoln and Vietnam, with extra time at each to walk around, or wheel around (each has a wheel chair if they need it), and get a good idea of the area, said McPartland.
As Doc described the trip, his face lit up and his eyes twinkled. Despite the long walks and seeing all the sights, most of the men were quite tired but happy to be able to go.
"By the second day they were tired and worn out. But it means the world to me to see their faces and emotions," McPartland said.
The travelers don't get home without collecting a bunch of souvenirs from Honor Flight. Each gets a flag that flew over the Capitol with a bag to put it in when not in use, a travel duffel bag from Honor Flight with their name on it filled with items they might need, a D.C. photo book, and each received a different quilt with their name written on the inside.
Once on the plane returning to Portland, each received an envelope full of mail including thank-you notes from children and others thanking them for their service.
"It was an excellent trip, and I'll never forget it," Doc said.
About the 'Doc'
Just in case you're wondering, Doc got his nickname just after he was born. A blue baby, there were three doctors taking care of him. His mother said she wanted to name him after the doctors, but one backed out and Doc became Clint Warren Hickman after Dr. Clint and Dr. Warren.
He was a Marine Corps drill instructor who enjoyed his instructor status at boot camp and spent a year in Japan training to be on a rifle team.
"I transferred to a rifle team and was there for one night. There were two teams, we got sent back to the mainland, the other team got transferred to Hawaii," he said laughing.
Back in the states he was put on guard duty for the Naval Shipyard in Long Beach, California, where they guarded gates. He was also part of the honor guard that led the parade to open Disneyland in 1955. One evening he got stationed at an "audience award show where Eddie Fisher sang the Star Spangled Banner and Grace Kelly was in the audience."
When their job was finished, an actor named George Gobel walked up to them and said, " 'Let's go off to the bar boys,' and we all went."
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