“I love seeing them step off the buses and seeing their excitement when they walk into the memorial for the first time,'' Lankford said. “ One of the very first guys caught me and said, ‘It's so different being here than it was seeing it in pictures.'
“It's an honor to see them and be able to thank them personally.”
They were just boys when they left for the war and many had never been far from home. Kappel was 19, “just a redneck farm kid,” when he left for the Philippines; Joseph Williams, of Del City, said he joined the Army in 1944, just out of high school. Austin was among the older ones — he turned 21 on his way to the South Pacific.
And they had vastly different tasks: Robert Paul Williams, of Yukon, was a rear gunner on a B-24 bomber during the daring raids on the Nazis' oilfields in Romania; Austin typed up daily casualty reports in the Philippines for the 32nd Infantry Division; Billy Joe Garner, of Durant, was a cryptographer for a B-26 bomber group in England and France; Deapen was an x-ray technician at a large training base in Idaho.
But they were bound by their common mission, and they were finally honored for that with a national memorial here in 2004. And the organizers of Honor Flight and the donors to the program are trying to get as many as possible to see it.
“Everything has been well planned, ideally put together,'' Joseph Williams said. “I couldn't ask for a better trip.”