Robert Dorval of Greenville was 17 when he decided to go to war. He wanted to join the Navy, but he needed his mother to approve of his enlistment.
William Grimshaw of Cranston was 29 when he enlisted.
Dorval is now 88 and Grimshaw is 100 and, like 59 other World War II veterans, they were up long before dawn Saturday for the third Rhode Island Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
As Dorval remembers, he had to make three promises before his mother signed the papers that eventually put him on the USS Trenton in the Pacific during World War II.
“I had to promise no tattoos, no subs and no bundle,” he said from his seat in one of three buses parked outside Station 8 next to Ann & Hope. Beside him as his guardian – a guardian for the trip accompanied each World War II veteran. This was a special guardian, his grandson, Michael Lefevre, who is a teacher in Norwich, Conn.
“I didn’t even know what a bundle was,” Dorval said with a laugh. He didn’t return from the war with a woman or children. He married in 1948 and the couple became parents to four boys and a girl.
“We had a hell of a time,” he said.
Dorval was looking forward to a good time in Washington as well. Honor flight participants are treated to a day that includes a visit to the World War II Memorial and other national monuments, including the Arlington National Cemetery. Accompanying them were more than 50 bagpipers from the Rhode Island Professional Firefighters Pipes and Drums and the Providence Police Pipes and Drums. The groups played at venues, including Arlington, which required special approval that involved the office of Senator Jack Reed.
For previous flights, the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs Honor Flight (headed by retired Providence Fire Chief George Farrell) raised funds to pay the airfare of veterans. Ocean State Job Lot stepped forward this time to pay the fare and went a big step further. In previous Honor Flights, guardians paid for their airfare. This time, Job Lot and its customers paid the tab. Many Job Lot staffers served as guardians and helped organize the event.
Job Lot didn’t stop there. The company also coordinated flights from Boston and Long Island to bring together nearly 200 World War II veterans in Washington.
“It was a spectacular day, the vets had a wonderful experience,” Farrell said Monday. “Job Lot employees and their customers fulfilled our mission to bring World War II veterans to Washington to see their memorial.”
Farrell is the dynamo behind the effort. His vision of thanking members of the “greatest generation” and to have them visit the nation’s capitol put him on a campaign not only to find the veterans, but also to raise the money and recruit volunteers to make it happen. He spoke at Rotary Clubs and veterans organizations, met with companies that could help and turned to people like Stephen Hay, who served 35 years with the Warwick Fire Department before retiring.
Hay’s father “Del” was a pilot in the Army Air Corps before it became the U.S. Air Force.
“He never talked about the war,” he said. “They are our heroes,” and he wants to ensure they are recognized.
Saturday was Hay’s third Honor Flight and he plans to go again on Nov. 2. Planning the trips has become a full-time job. With connections in the Warwick Fire and Police Departments, he pulled together the volunteers needed to run the staging area at Station 8, where veterans, guardians and family members gathered before taking the short bus ride to Green Airport. Once at the airport, the veterans gathered at the curb – many in wheelchairs – before being ushered into the terminal, with Boy Scouts, police and fire honor guards and scores of family and friends forming an aisle to the escalators and elevators to the departure level. They were greeted by bagpipes and applause.
Hay was Grimshaw’s guardian and Hay gave up his bus seat so a reporter could get Grimshaw’s story:
Grimshaw was a lineman for Narragansett Electric before enlisting. It was a skill that served him well as a Seabee. He said as a Seabee, “you do anything and everything.”
He set up communication systems and helped build runways in the Pacific.
“They were shooting over us and at us,” he said of Saipan.
The shots flying over were from American ships offshore; the bullets aimed at them were from the enemy. Soldiers were being hit everywhere. Grimshaw said they lost two divisions. He and 34 other men were in a boat that got stuck on one of the reefs offshore. They felt like sitting ducks until a tractor-like device was able to free them. He helped build airfields for the squadrons of B-29s that later bombed Japanese cities. He remembers seeing the “Enola Gay” and learning later that it had dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
After the war, Grimshaw decided he was getting too old to be climbing utility poles.
“You know,” he said, “they didn’t have those lift trucks back then and you had to carry everything up with you.”
Grimshaw found a job in the maintenance division of the Providence Police Department.
Farrell is in awe of his story, and the many other stories of this generation of veterans. With each honor flight, he learns of more veterans. He urged the veterans and their families to go online and complete an application, as he’s already planning the next flight, and the next...