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Thursday, April 7, 2011 11:16 pm

Honor Flight sends WW II vets to Washington, D.C., for a day


Above: Mike Murphy and his father WWII veteran Bob Murphy, enjoyed a meal at the VFW the night before the flight.

Springfield resident Bernard Carver, 89, remembers loading ammunition, refueling four-engine B-24 bombers and flying along with pilots in the Eighth Air Force, to pick up equipment during World War II.

Early Tuesday morning, April 5, Carver, along with his son, Bernie Carver, boarded a plane, this time chartered by Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. The elder Carver was among 86 veterans who spent one day touring sites at the World War II Memorial, and both the Korean and Vietnam War memorials, along with witnessing the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I’d never seen the monument and I guess it’s getting to where if I’m going to see it, I better go,” said Bernard Carver, before he flew to Washington, D.C.

Right: Betsy Jane and Bob Murphy on their wedding day, Nov. 28. 1945, in Pearl City, Oahu, Hawaii.
Volunteers hand out letters of appreciation from family and friends on the flight back that landed in Springfield after 10 p.m. the same night. Since it began in 2009, Land of Lincoln Honor Flight has given more than 500 veterans a free flight to see the memorial as a way to say thank you for their service. “To me, we owe everything to that generation for the freedoms that we still have today,” says Ray Wiedle, president of Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. “The World War II generation is known as the greatest generation. To me, I haven’t met a more giving generation.”    

With donations from businesses and individuals, the organization not only picks up the tab for the veterans’ flight from Springfield and back, but all meals, beverages and incidentals along the way. Wheeled chairs are available for veterans who need them, as are trained guardians like Bernie Carver, 64, who is among 74 guardians who guided the men to and from sites throughout the day.

Wiedle, a veteran of Vietnam, helped found the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight along with Springfield resident Bob Matteson, 85. Wiedle, a 24-year resident of Chatham before moving to St. Ann, Mo., was first a guardian for an Honor Flight in Missouri, where he met Matteson. Bob Matteson, A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, flew with Honor Flight out of St. Louis at the time, because there wasn’t a program through Springfield. Matteson is a former board member for Land of Lincoln Honor Flight and remains a strong supporter.

“A lot of these guys never had the opportunity to go out and see the memorial,” says Matteson. “We’ll take them out there and we will keep them up for long hours, we will tire them out, wind them up and they’ll love every minute of it,” Matteson said at the Veterans of Foreign Wars banquet on the eve of the flight.

Even before the daylong trip, the thought of being near fellow veterans and seeing the memorial dedicated to those who served in World War II brought out veterans’ stories and recollections overlooked or forgotten. Some shared their stories with Illinois Times days before takeoff.

It was long into their marriage that John Knoepfle’s wife, Peggy Knoepfle, 76, heard about his service in the U.S. Navy.

Peg and John Knoepfle outside the Vachel Lindsay Home, where they gave a presentation last week on their lives of poetry and activism.

“He used to say he didn’t want to become obsessed with it,” she says, as she looks over at him on their living room couch. “He also downplayed a lot of what he’d done.”

“We did what we were assigned to do,” says John Knoepfle.

He compiled much of his war and life experiences into an autobiography titled, I look around for my life, published in 2008. Knoepfle, whose knee and leg were severely injured by shrapnel from “friendly fire” at Iwo Jima, almost didn’t make it though the war, something he never used to talk about, Peggy Knoepfle says.

He was a lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy and led a small boat transport of troops and wounded men to and from Okinawa. The 88-year-old recalls sailing over the straits of the Solomon Islands, a watery grave for servicemen who had died in the defense of Guadalcanal.

“When we were going through the straits, you could have heard a pin drop on the ship,” says John Knoepfle. “The poor guys, they were stuck down there,” he says. “It was very solemn.”

“I have war stories to tell, and I do have shrapnel in both legs, but my war was nothing like somebody coming out of North Africa and up through the boot of Italy,” he said.

John Knoepfle as a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy.
Even so, he looked forward to swapping stories with veterans on the honor flight to see the memorial and the connections he would make there.

For Bob Murphy, memories of the war mainly involve a ball and glove. The resident of Divernon smiles and laughs heartily as he sits next to his son, Mike Murphy, owner of Charlie Parker’s Diner in Springfield. The father and son both made their way to the memorial for the first time together, with his son as guardian.

Before the trip, memories were shared about hurling a softball from a dirt pitcher’s mound for the “Seabees,” named for the construction-savvy sailors on its roster. It was on the softball diamond in Pearl City, in Oahu, Hawaii, where he was stationed for three years before he met his wife, Betsy Jane Murphy. She was three years his senior, and played for a women’s softball team. When they married she was a petty officer first class, a higher rank than he, and served as a store clerk with the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Services).

 Fresh off of their honeymoon, Bob Murphy remembers his commanding officer telling him, “You better get ready, you’re shipping out tomorrow morning.”

The newlyweds were parted when Murphy was shipped off to Wake Island aboard the USS Hale. The island is a coral island overtaken by the United States after it was occupied by the Japanese. He was stationed on Wake Island for six months.

Bernard Carver remembers his service with the Air Force during World War II.

As a Seabee, Bob Murphy helped repair landing strips, build barracks and transport building supplies on the island. The men slept in tents on Wake Island, and Murphy remembers a downpour that caused his tent to leak. The tents were manufactured by Armbruster Tents in Springfield, Ill., at the time, and Murphy had worked as a rope foreman for the owner, Dick Armbruster, when he went to Springfield High School before enlisting in the Navy at 17. Armbruster Manufacturing Co. is still in business in Springfield.

“That tent I was in, I looked up and it said R.H. Armbruster on the door up above.”

After sending a letter to Armbruster, saying that the tents were “leaking like hell,” his old boss sent him a kit with patches to seal it.

 Throughout his tour of duty, he made friends that lasted a lifetime. The Seabees held reunions, where Mike Murphy says he learned about most of his dad’s Navy experiences. But with many World War II veterans now reaching 90 and older, many of his friends from the war have died. Which is why before the flight, he said that he looked forward to meeting guys like himself who were in the Navy during the war.

“They’ll all have different stories. And I’m going to show Mike where his mother buried a turtle,” he said.

 Father, son and daughter-in-law, Cindy Murphy, ate together with veterans and their families at the VFW banquet the night before the trip, a tradition before every Land of Lincoln honor flight to the nation’s capital.

Bernard Carver served as a master sergeant crew chief for the Eighth Air Force.
Bob Murphy was so excited to go on the flight, he had arranged for one of his daughters to call him at 2 a.m. the morning of the flight, so he wouldn’t be late. But what he looked forward to most was a reunion between four generations at the memorial with son, Mike Murphy, grandson Bobby Murphy, and great-grandson Ethan Murphy, outfitted in a Seabee T-shirt.

Mike Murphy said even though his mother, Betsy Jane Murphy, passed away in 2006, she would be joining the family at the memorial in her own way. The father and son brought the United States flag given them at her memorial in 2006.

“My dad will actually hold her flag and I’ll take a picture of it for everybody in front of the Michigan pillar, because that’s where my mother was from when she enlisted. We will honor her in that way,” Mike Murphy says. “And so she’s actually going with us.”

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.


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