Veteran gets an Indy Honor Flight to Washington

Bill Powell of Hagerstown thought that only combat veterans should be honored with a free trip to Washington, D.C. by the Indy Honor Flight. As it has done for years, the Honor Flight takes veterans to visit the memorials that a grateful nation has put up to recognize their service.

A couple of years after Powell’s 1959 graduation from Hagerstown High School, the Army drafted him. He served two years, 1963-65, in the military police at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Powell, who came home and worked at Dana Corporation in Hagerstown until it closed in the late 1990s, also served his community with the volunteer fire department, where he was fire chief for more than 20 years. He’s been commander of the William O. Frazier American Legion Post 333 for several years.

But, “I didn’t go to ‘Nam,” Powell said, referring to the war then raging in southeast Asia. “When the Honor Flight came to interview me (about going to Washington), I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I told them others deserved it a lot more. They said, ‘You served.’”

So in the early morning of Oct. 15, Powell found himself as one of 86 veterans on an Indy Honor Flight. In the early hours that day, he boarded a plane at Indianapolis with his son Mike Powell, who accompanied him as a guardian. They returned home to a cheering crowd of well-wishers at about 9 o’clock that evening.

Darrell Smith of Hagerstown, who serves as an Indy Honor Flight volunteer as often as he can, said, “”The Vietnam veterans especially did not have a welcoming homecoming and often were considered ‘baby killers,’ and some were welcomed home with spit in the airport. They deserved better, even by those who disagreed with that war.”

Prior to leaving, the veterans had assembled at a school in Plainfield for breakfast and a briefing. Then they loaded onto buses for a short trip to Indianapolis International Airport for the flight to Reagan International in Washington.

A crowd filled the Plainfield High School gym to welcome home veterans who took the Indy Honor Flight on Oct. 15. Supplied by Mike Powell

“It was neat when we landed (in Washington). They had the American flag there on the walkway and they gave us flags and fist bumps, thanking us for our service,” Powell said.

The long day included visits by the veterans to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the Air Force Memorial and other places. They witnessed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and viewed the Pentagon from a distance.

Powell recalled standing at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, called The Wall. It is comprised of a series of black-granite stones engraved with the names of 58,318 American service men and women lost in that conflict.

“It was impressive,” Powell said. “There were people making etchings of names. They had an index of all the names and there were different symbols by the names.”

Those declared dead are marked by a diamond; those MIA (missing in action) are marked by a cross. If the person marked as MIA returns alive, a circle is placed around the cross. If their remains are identified, a diamond is superimposed over the cross.

A volunteer guardian accompanies each veteran on the trip to help ensure the veteran is well taken care of. Powell’s son Mike, who lives just west of Indianapolis, served as Bill’s guardian. While the trip for veterans is free, guardians are responsible for paying their own way.

After visiting the sites, buses took the veterans and their guardians back to Reagan International Airport for a flight home. During a mail call on the return trip, each veteran received a packet of cards and letters from school children, each with a message thanking them for their service.

Smith said, “I help at the airport curb getting the veterans off the buses in the morning and back on the buses at night. I get little opportunity to interact with the vets other than ‘welcome home’ and a ‘thank you for your service.’ Mostly they have big smiles on their faces and the vets cling to their package of letters received during mail call.

During the homecoming, each veteran got a kiss on their cheeks from a couple of women wearing bright red lipstick.

But Powell’s greeting became even more personal. “Mike had told me we were going to the football game the next day and I was all fired up about staying with him that night and going to the game,” Powell said. “They were playing bagpipes for us as we entered and they had us all come down the hall, and there were my grandkids waving flags.”

His sons, their wives and many of their children had assembled, some from as far away as California, to give Powell a welcome home fit for a serviceman.

Indy Honor Flight serves a longer term purpose in the lives of veterans, Smith said. “Often after the event, those volunteers who traveled to Washington with the veterans will receive messages from the vet or the family who share for the first time since coming home from the war, the vet opened up and talked about their service. This is why we fly.”

About Indy Honor Flight

Indy Honor Flight transports veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam to see their memorials in Washington, D.C. For free!

Indy Honor Flight is a non-profit organization created solely to honor Indiana’s veterans for their service and sacrifice. Top priority is given to the oldest veterans. Their goal is to get the most senior veterans to visit the memorials built for them before it is too late. They give priority to terminally ill veterans.

Veterans interested in being a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience should complete an application, paying particular attention to the Dates of Service; Indy Honor Flight can only honor veterans who served during the times of the conflict as shown.

There also are volunteer, donation and other opportunities to get involved.

For information, contact Indy Honor Flight through its website,; or by mail at P.O. Box 10, Plainfield, IN 46168; email to; or phone, 317-559-1600.

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.