Honoring Oklahoma's WWII veterans

16 million Americans responded to the call to serve in World War II. Current estimates identify fewer than 3 million of those who remain. At best estimates, about 60,000 are living in Oklahoma.
by Bryan Painter Published: October 16, 2011
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photo - Clarence "Bud" Stark, of Norman, wipes tears from his face as he walks away from the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Stark, a Marine during WWII, was on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised. Stark and other veterans from WWII visited memorials in Washington D.C. and Virginia during an Oklahoma Honor Flight on Wednesday. Photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Clarence "Bud" Stark, of Norman, wipes tears from his face as he walks away from the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Stark, a Marine during WWII, was on Iwo Jima when the flag was raised. Stark and other veterans from WWII visited memorials in Washington D.C. and Virginia during an Oklahoma Honor Flight on Wednesday. Photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

The Will Rogers quote, “We can't all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by,” was just inside the cover page of the program for the Oklahoma Honor Flights recognition ceremony.

In the time it took Tuesday night for slightly more than 100 World War II veterans to file into Rose State Performing Arts Theatre, the clapping never ceased, and the hundreds of family and friends never sat down.

The emotions continued to roll just like the waves on the beaches many of them never have forgotten.

At the playing of “Taps,” tears trickled under wire-framed glasses over wrinkles that represented trenches of time.

During the playing of the songs of each of the military branches, veterans stood, or if unable to do so, gestured accordingly. All proud, some tight-jawed, others smiling. One veteran gave a double-fist pump to the words “nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force.”

During the ceremony, a stage video screen showed a photo of two hands, one delivering a baton to the other.

The exchange zone in a relay race is an example Banz offers when talking about Oklahoma Honor Flights and how the generations of the past are placing the responsibility of defending this nation in the hands of those much younger.

This is done at top speed without breaking stride, Banz said.

As they entered the ceremony, the veterans were paired with students in ROTC and Civil Air Patrol.

The veterans were given a pocket-size copy of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights that they took the oath to “preserve, protect and defend.”

The young people were given an Oklahoma Honor Flights coin created to honor the veterans “as our heroes,” Banz said. The students and the veterans were asked to stand and face each other, if possible, and exchange these items.

A young red-haired man presented the commemorative coin to the man with thick white hair and received the pocket-size copy. Then the ROTC student gently patted the veteran on the back of his left shoulder while they looked at each other and smiled.

“Young people, these are your heroes,” Banz said. “Take the baton and honor them by pledging to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution and our way of life.”

The baton had been passed.

Contributing: Staff photographer John Clanton

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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