When Raymond Minor first learned he was one of 70 Hoosier World War II veterans selected to receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. last weekend, he didn’t want to go.
With a weak heart and limited mobility, the former Cummins Inc. worker who retired in 1983 felt he was in no shape to participate in the Indy Honor Flight program.
The 91-year-old Minor is now legally blind. He worried his lack of vision had left him incapable of enjoying the experience.
But his wife of 39 years wouldn’t listen to excuses. “I just told him ‘no’ was not an option,” Barb Minor said.
It was a decision she’ll never regret that led to an experience her husband will never forget.
“It was just outstanding ... beautiful,” said Raymond Minor, who resides with his wife on County Road 450E. “They couldn’t have planned it any better.”
Minor, along with Chester Caffee of Newbern and Peter Ster of Columbus, spent the night in Indianapolis after attending an April 5 reception. That evening, Minor met Jack Grose of Greenfield, who would serve as his personal guardian during the next day’s trip.
Shortly after 6 a.m. the next morning, the local participants and their entourage joined other World War II veterans from three other states on a chartered flight to Washington D.C.
When the vets arrived, they were greeted by a cheering crowd of more than 3,000 well-wishers — a number Barb Minor describes as conservative when compared to other estimates.
“We didn’t have any idea there would be that kind of crowd there. And when we walked in, they struck up the band,” Raymond Minor said. “We were the limelight of the whole thing.”
As the swing music flowed, hundreds began to dance. Amid the “jitterbugging” and “lindy-hopping,” several children and adults anxiously walked up to Minor to shake his hand.
“What really got me was when each of them said ‘thank you for your service,’ I could see they were really sincere,” Minor said. “Joy just ran through my body.”
But the best was yet to come.
After receiving advance notice that Minor was blind, Grose spent several hours preparing finely-detailed descriptions of each landmark the veterans would visit.
“Jack would outline where we were, tell me what was coming up, and boy — he just made it so much better,” Minor said. “He described it so well, you could see it in your mind.”
The veterans got off their buses to see the World War II memorial. They were driven past the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean and Vietnam War memorials and the Marine Corps Memorial, which depicts the iconic image of the raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima.
But while attending the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, Minor unexpectedly became filled with emotion.
“It just hit me: Why was I saved then? Why am I being honored now? I was just a Seaman First Class. I wasn’t even fired on,” Minor said.
He had worked during the war repairing and positioning floating bomber targets for training exercises off the Pacific Ocean islands.
Not only did Minor survive, but his four brothers — Noble, Eugene, Bob and Donald Minor — also made it home safely after the final defeat of the Axis powers in 1945.
“How could we be so lucky after so many of our friends, classmates and neighbors died?” Minor asked with solemn awe.
Emotions run rampant
Veteran groups believe these common emotions, which reflect what’s called Survivor’s Syndrome, frequently give World War II veterans a form of cathartic relief — and perhaps peace of mind in their final years — when shared in reverence with military peers.
Organizers of the Honor Flight Program expect these feelings to emerge at Arlington. That’s likely why they saved the biggest surprises for the return trip.
During the flight back to Indiana, Minor learned letters were being distributed to many of his fellow veterans. He hoped to receive one or two.
“I ended up getting a sack full,” Minor said with a broad smile beaming across his face. As his guardian read messages composed for him by people ranging from grade-school students to U.S. senators, Minor said he had never felt this degree of love from total strangers.
But those letters benefit not only veterans such as Minor, but also the children who write them, said Barb Minor, a retired teacher.
“Our children need to know our heritage and understand why we are in these wars,” Barb Minor said. “History is what makes us who we are.”
After an exhausting day, most of the veterans fell asleep before the plane touched down Saturday night at Indianapolis International Airport.
But to their surprise, the veterans suddenly beheld long rows of friends, family and fellow Hoosiers — often five or six people deep — all there to give them a hero’s welcome, Barb Minor said.
Her husband was especially taken back when two young women approached him, looking like they could have just stepped out in full color from his high school yearbook.
“One of them had really put the lipstick on,” Raymond Minor said with a laugh. “She gave me a peck on the cheek. The other girl had a different color lipstick and put a kiss right here on my chin.”
“I don’t think he’s bothered to wash it off yet,” Barb Minor said while flashing a sly grin to her husband.
There was one last surprise for Minor that nobody planned. As the vets held up enlarged photos of themselves from the 1940s showing them as young soldiers and sailors, he was approached by several amateur baseball and softball players.
They were acquaintances from years ago, another surprise on the journey.
The players had come to greet a Shelby County veteran and didn’t know that Raymond Minor, who had driven them in years past to play tournament games in Florida, would also be there among the Honor Flight veterans.