By CHANSE WATSON
SPOKANE — There are many different groups and organizations that exist to honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Some help with medical expenses, others take veterans overseas to see where they used to serve.
The Honor Flight Network, based in Ohio, is a nonprofit organization that has another approach and takes veterans on a trip of a lifetime to our nation’s capital.
“We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials,” their website states. “Top priority is given to the senior veterans — World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.”
This last April, former United States Women’s Army Corp. Specialist and Silver Valley native Josephine Mary Davis was one of 101 veterans to participate in the flight.
Davis served in the WAC from Aug. 31, 1964, to Oct. 19, 1966.
She first joined up with the idea of working in communications.
She completed basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama, then was sent to Fort Gordon in Georgia for Communication Center Specialist Training. Little did she know that when she and other recruits arrived, a pushy general would ask for someone to volunteer for the civil affairs department.
“He said, ‘nobody leaves until someone volunteers,” she recalled. “I joined the military because of what president Kennedy had said, ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’Nobody was going to volunteer because they were told by their husbands not to volunteer for anything. So I stood up and said, ‘send me.’ That’s why I came, to go where I was needed.”
From November 1964 to June 1965, Davis worked as a typist and even got married in December 1964. Her husband deployed not soon after to Europe with the Signal Corps.
Fighting off rumors that he had married her solely to get out of going to Vietnam, Davis wrote Senator Frank Church asking for a favor.
“I wrote him that women of the USWAC cannot go overseas unless they have served 3-4 years in the states. I’m married to an American soldier and I would like a compassionate reassignment. My mother always voted for him and she always said, ‘if you want to get something done, call Frank Church.”
Some time later, the senator called her while she was working and told her that her new orders were on the way.
“I was so shocked, I saluted the telephone!” She recalled. “I said I would not disappoint him and next thing I knew, I was promoted to PFC.”
While she had a new rank, Davis was unsure of her new assignment or where she was being sent. Eventually, she would get sent to Frankfurt, Germany, along with some other WACs. Unfortunately, whoever was in charge of getting her to her final destination was not interested in helping. He instead wanted her to sign a waiver (nullifying her orders) and go to Hanover.
When she declined to cooperate, she was left alone with no way of getting anywhere.
“I hollered at the top of my lungs, ‘God! Are you forever going to leave me stranded in Frankfurt International Airport?’ Then I sat down and I cried.”
Thanks to the acts of a friendly stranger who saw her outburst — she was given the money she needed to eat, find lodging and get to her assignment in Oxford with the hospital there.
She reported to the hospital, but was surprised to learn once there that they had not received her orders and were not expecting her.
Davis had to wait sometime until the hospital finally gave her the position of ward clerk.
From this time to her unplanned honorable discharge in 1966 (she had been so busy, she forgot to reenlist), Davis would work at this hospital and deal with her husband’s rambunctious behavior on the side. It was at the hospital that she learn a great deal about medical care and triage.
Fast forward to 2017, Davis was approached by a friend at the senior center in Kellogg with the idea of participating in the Honor Flight.
“I hadn’t been on an airplane since I came home from Europe!” She said. “I don’t want to get stranded again!”
After a year of pondering it, Davis agreed to go, but was worried about raising the funds needed. Thankfully, her trip was paid in full and she was even assigned a guardian to accompany her along the entire trip.
Davis arrived to Spokane Airport on April 29 and was greeted by her assigned guardian, Erin Elizabeth Blessing, who normally works for the Spokane Police Department.
The duo, along with 100 other veterans and their guardians, then took a direct flight to Washington, D.C., where they would spend an entire day seeing all the sights the city had to offer.
From the Air Force and Korean Memorials to the Arlington Cemetery (which they received a police escort to), Davis was so overwhelmed with joy as they bounced around.
“It was so utterly amazing,” she said. “They asked me what was the most important thing you saw, and I thought, ‘my god, how do you explain that? How do you tell them that it was the most important thing?”
During her time there, Blessing tended to her every need and ensured that she was taken care of.
When she and the rest of the veterans returned, Davis wasn’t expecting any huge welcome party. But to her surprise, a huge fanfare was set up around the plane.
“There were so many people there,” she said. “There were Cub Scouts saluting us, Boy Scouts saluting us, Campfire Girls saluting us, a band playing, there were people from Vietnam that reached over and grabbed me and kissed me because of what it meant to them. So many people welcoming us home and thanking us for our service.”
Now that she is back, Davis wants any U.S. Veteran in the Silver Valley to take what she describes as “a trip of a lifetime” and see what she saw.
For more information on Inland Northwest Honor Flight, visit www.inwhonorflight.org or call 509-624-0222.