Kenneth Fritz: Reflections On An Honor Flight
Kenneth Fritz served with the U.S. Army Air Corps, 1st Fighter Group from September 11, 1941 until his honorable discharge on October 10, 1945, achieving the rank of Sergeant. He saw action in the Mediterranean Air War while serving in North Africa and Italy. For heroic service to our country, his unit received the Distinguished Unit Citation, and two bronze oak leaf clusters.
Sixty-three years after the end of World War II, Mr. Fritz joined a group of his compatriots on a Twin Cities Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial, the United States Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Memorial, the Women in Military Service For America Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. The trip held deep meaning for the 94 veterans on the trip, many of whom found some closure from the enduring pain of their wartime experiences. Mr. Fritz put his thoughts on the journey on paper for the Minnesota's Greatest Generation project.
Why this trip to Washington to view the Memorial may be sort of a closer to a persistent pain that has been with me over several years.
It is actually silly to let one's life be controlled by the constant of approaching death, not only myself, but my companions, and not only in the military but in every walk of life.
As a young lad this was not evident. However, in the military this became evident all too often. George was missing over the Pacific. Julius died in Burma. What happened to Glen?
Flight training was hampered by the knowledge that by any simple mistake, any responsibility partially forgotten in the joy of youth was a denial of how one was only a step in the wrong direction from oblivion.
We marched blindly on the Queen Elizabeth (troop transport), knowing full well German subs were eagerly waiting to sink a trophy in a convoy on its way to a new landing. Were we to be thrust into battle unprepared? Death was so sure and so silent; bloody and odious.
Planes were made to fly, but one little mistake and a hard landing or a lucky Hun and it was all over for a dear friend. The war was over, but that did not save an old soldier, going home to his folks – a terrible waste due to an unnecessary firearm inspection.
These are examples of war's terrible tolls. Yet we went willingly, though innocently, to die on the field of battle.
This was repeated over and over, as evidenced by the white crosses across the nation and the world. Thus, when I sent in my application for an Honor Flight to this great memorial, at first I rejected even thinking of going because of my age and infirmities. It was to be my desire, not "an order".
On this trip were many others with the same uneasy feelings I was experiencing, but those feelings quickly evaporated in the midst of the enthusiasm of all involved in getting us safely on our way. God bless my fellow volunteers in the Armed Forces Service Center and others that have contributed in any way to make this a success.
The flight seemed short. We were landing at Washington's airport and taxiing to the terminal where two fire trucks waited to send an arch of water over us in honor of the passengers. On leaving the plane we heard people shouting, a band playing. It was beyond belief.
A "welcome home" after all these years brought tears to the eyes of old soldiers.
The rest of the trip went so fast: busing from our memorial to others, a stop for a quick meal at a buffet ready to feed 150 people in a hurry, then back to the buses, back to the terminal, and we boarded the plane for home, to be met again by Honor Guard's flags and escorts to the main terminal, with many people waving flags. Home at last.
From my honorable discharge in 1945, I have asked for nothing but to be left alone. I received health insurance from my employer. I was independently free – not a flag-waver, but a true Patriot, out of the limelight. Still, every time I saw an obituary or heard of another buddy's passing, though it was a simple death because of age complications, once again I was bothered. But I honestly feel now, after being with my fellow veterans on this trip, no one has to be on their own.
The war is over. We are free. With the help of God and common sense, it is over.
Editor's note: View "For Freedom", a short documentary of the September 13, 2008 Honor Flight to Washington, produced by Zechariah and Ezra Thormodsgaard for the Minnesota's Greatest Generation "Moving Pictures" Film Festival. Learn more about the Honor Flight program.
Fritz, Kenneth, Reflections on an Honor Flight, 2008.