May 20, 2015

Manchin and Capito Welcome West Virginia Veterans to Washington

Manchin and Capito present Tuskegee Airman with Congressional Gold Medal and Red Jacket

Manchin and Capito present each veteran with Congressional Record Statements to honor his service

‘America’s Got Talent’ winner Landau Murphy sings National Anthem to veterans

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) proudly welcomed 29 veterans from West Virginia to the nation’s capital for the fifth “Always Free Honor Flight.” The Flight included a reception to award the Congressional Gold Medal to a Tuskegee Airman from Beckley, West Virginia, Sergeant John M. Watson; a special appearance by America’s Got Talent winner and Logan County native, Landau Murphy; a tour of the Capitol with General Hoyer; and visits to the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial. Senator Manchin also provided each veteran with a Congressional Record Statement to recognize the veterans’ trip to Washington, D.C.

During the veterans’ Capitol visit, Senators Manchin and Capito joined Representatives Evan Jenkins, Alex Mooney and David McKinley in presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Sergeant John M. Watson, Jr. to recognize the Beckley resident as a Tuskegee Airman. Sergeant Watson joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and served as an Aircraft Crew Chief for the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of African American pilots to fly and maintain combat aircraft in American armed forces history. At 96 years old, he has never been recognized as a Tuskegee Airman until today. Over the past week, Senator Manchin worked with Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. to make sure Sergeant Watson would be inducted into this elite organization.

As a special guest, America’s Got Talent star and Logan County native, Landau Murphy, also sang the National Anthem to welcome the veterans to our nation’s capital.

“It is a great privilege to welcome a group of West Virginia heroes – 29 courageous veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War – to Washington, D.C.,” Senator Manchin said. “Their service and sacrifice know no bounds, and it is because of their bravery and valor that we enjoy many of the liberties and freedoms we enjoy as Americans every day. The veterans participating in today’s ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ embody the Mountain State’s history and contributions to safeguard America’s freedoms. Spending time with these veterans on their special honor flight is just one way to pay homage for their service as they tour the Capitol and the monuments and memorials built in their honor.”

“Welcoming this remarkable group of West Virginia veterans to Washington is a true honor.  The ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ is an outstanding program that provides our veterans with the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and receive the special recognition they deserve. I speak on behalf of all West Virginians when I say thank you, veterans, for your sacrifices and your courageous service,” said Senator Capito.

Of the Honor Flight veterans, two served in World War II, one served in both World War II and the Korean War, six served in the Korean War, 16 served in the Vietnam War and four served after 1964. They were accompanied by seven ROTC Cadets volunteering as guardians from southern West Virginia high schools, the President of the Denver Foundation and Little Buddy Radio, Dreama Denver, and the “Always Free Honor Flight” organizer Pam Coulbourne, in addition to veterans’ family members and medics. Major General James A. Hoyer, the Adjutant General of West Virginia, also greeted the veterans on their flight.

The Honor Flight Network is a nationwide effort that raises funds to ensure veterans have the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. free of cost to see the monuments that were built in their honor.

In West Virginia, the “Always Free Honor Flight Network” was established thanks to the Denver Foundation and Little Buddy Radio, located in Princeton, West Virginia. These non-profit organizations were founded by Bob Denver – who played Gilligan on “Gilligan’s Island” – and his wife Dreama, a West Virginia native.

To view more photos from the “Always Free Honor Flight,” please visit Senator Manchin’s website and Facebook page.

Senator Manchin wrote the following statement in the Congressional Record:


M. President, I rise with tremendous pride to recognize a group of heroic West Virginia veterans who are visiting our nation’s capital for the fifth annual ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ this week. On behalf of our state and nation, it is a true privilege to recognize them for their courageous service and unparalleled sacrifice as they tour the memorials that have been built in their honor.

Participating in this year’s ‘Always Free Honor Flight,’ a truly moving and special trip that is organized every year for our heroes, are 29 veterans from across the southern region of the Mountain State. Among this special group are 16 Vietnam War veterans, six Korean War veterans, two World War II veterans and one veteran who served in both World War II and the Korean War.

M. President, I would especially like to recognize our World War II veterans who will be on this ‘Honor Flight.’ A resident of Beckley, Sergeant John M. Watson, Jr. joined the Army Air Corps in 1942. He was an Aircraft Crew Chief for the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of black pilots in American armed forces history. It is a wonderful privilege to be able to meet him and personally thank him for his service in the line of duty.

We will also be joined by Joseph F. Graham, a decorated World War II veteran and a resident of Bluefield, West Virginia, who fought in the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines in 1945 and Sergeant Melvin L. Grubb, also of Bluefield, West Virginia, who served in the 40th Infantry Division, Field Artillery, Guadalcanal, New Britain, Philippines, New Caledonia and occupied Korea.

These men, who fought in such a pivotal war, are an emblem of American patriotism and valor, and truly represent the sacrifices made by our nation’s Greatest Generation. Bold and fearless, they fought in an era that threatened our existence as a nation. Sadly, we are losing so many of our World War II veterans every day. The time to express our utmost gratitude to these brave men and women is here and now.

As I mentioned, we will also be joined on this Honor Flight by veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. These men and women served courageously in a variety of ways, working both at home and abroad. They engaged in combat all over the world. They were Navy pilot bombers, medical officers, and combat engineers. One of the Flight’s veterans, U.S. Navy Admiral John William Fleming, even served as a combat journalist and photographer as well as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey during Vietnam.

As their Senator and as a proud West Virginian and American, I am so immensely inspired by their incredible journeys, experiences and sacrifices.

These men and women may represent three generations of warriors. But no matter the war or the era, no matter the rank, each and every one of them courageously answered the call of duty to defend our nation and protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. In our time of need, they stepped forward and said, “I’ll do it – I’ll protect this country.”

West Virginians have always been champions of liberty, and I always say that West Virginia is one of the most patriotic states in the nation. We are a state with people of spine, nobility and valor. We have sent generations of warriors in the defense of freedom, and veterans are a part of that long line of service. We whole-heartedly thank them.

M. President, let me also recognize another dedicated West Virginia veteran who will be on the ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ – Major General James A. Hoyer, the Adjutant General of West Virginia. General Hoyer provides command guidance and vision to the West Virginia Army and Air National Guard of more than 6,500 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen. General Hoyer is a great a role model for future generations of West Virginians, and I am humbly grateful and deeply proud of all he does for the State of West Virginia. It speaks volumes that he will be traveling from the mountains of West Virginia to Capitol Hill to personally greet the ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ veterans.

Additionally, I would like to recognize the volunteers, or so-called “guardians,” who will be accompanying our veterans during their trip. Some of them are spouses, others are ROTC Cadets from the local high schools, but all of them are selflessly giving their time to travel alongside our veterans all the way from Princeton, West Virginia to Washington, D.C. to share this very special journey with them.

This will be the first time for many of these veterans to see the monuments and memorials that were built in their honor, which is why I am sincerely grateful for the hard work of the West Virginians who make this trip possible year after year. Without the diligence and passion of Dreama Denver, President of the Always Free Honor Flight Network and owner of Little Buddy Radio in Princeton, West Virginia, and Pam Coulbourne, the coordinator of organizing each Flight, many of our veterans would never have the opportunity to travel to Washington and pay homage to the men and women they fought beside.

Dreama and Pam launched the Always Free Honor Flight in 2012 and they continue to make this dream a reality for our West Virginia heroes every year. 

I commend Dreama, Pam, and all the Denver Foundation staff for their dedication and commitment to West Virginia’s large veteran population. They have offered the people in West Virginia just one more way to say ‘thank you’ to our veterans for their service and sacrifice.

M. President, I am filled with pride every time I meet the patriots who have served our country, and I am so pleased to welcome West Virginia’s most courageous veterans, who are all heroes, to Washington, D.C. I encourage all of my colleagues to join me in saluting them. They truly inspire us all as we are reminded of their selfless service. It is because of their bravery that all Americans enjoy the greatest liberties and freedoms in the world.

Senator Capito also submitted the following statement in the Congressional Record:


Mr. President, I rise today to welcome some of West Virginia’s most outstanding citizens to Washington. This week, as part of the fifth annual ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ program, we will recognize veterans from my home state for their dedicated commitment to our country. In light of West Virginia’s proud tradition of military service, it gives me great pleasure to honor these brave men and women who answered the call of duty during America’s hour of need.

Since its inception, the ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ program has taken up the important task of thanking those to which we owe our deepest gratitude. As the daughter of a World War II veteran, this is something very near and dear to my heart. This year we are joined by 29 Vietnam, Korea and World War II veterans from all across southern West Virginia.
These brave patriots sacrificed the comforts of home to defend the cause of freedom in a foreign land. The perseverance of our soldiers during these conflicts cannot be overstated. These individuals embody the extraordinary sacrifice exhibited by our servicemen and women throughout the greatest conflicts of the twentieth century.

One veteran on this year’s trip, Sergeant John M. Watson, Jr., who served with the renewed Tuskegee Airmen, will be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal for his service during World War II.

In addition to Sergeant Watson, West Virginia veterans participating in this year’s ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ program include: Joseph F. Graham,  Bluefield (WWII); Staff Sergeant Robert Graham, Hinton (WWII and Korean War); First Sergeant Melvin L. Grubb, Bluefield (WWII and Korean War); Staff Sergeant Robert G. Kushner, Charleston (Korean War); Airman First Class Herbert R. Dickerson, Beckley (Korean War); Corporal Billy G. Cooper, Milton (Korean War); Corporal James W. Bennett, Charleston (Korean War); Richard L. Graham, Beckley (Korean War); Petty Officer Second Class William B. Sowers, Princeton, (Korean War); Petty Officer Third Class Charles E. Turley, Scott Depot (Korean War); Colonel Jack E. Fincham, Brenton (Vietnam War); Sergeant Philip Templeton, Milton (Vietnam War); Petty Officer Second Class John W. Fleming, Princeton (Vietnam War); Master Sergeant Edward F. Simmons, Bluefield (Vietnam War); Airman Second Class Nancy J. Simmons, Bluefield (Vietnam War); Sergeant Fred R. Smith, Hurricane (Vietnam War); Sergeant Marshall G. Mann, Princeton (Vietnam War); Sergeant James R. Bond, Midway (Vietnam War); Senior Airman Allan D. Harbour, Princeton (Vietnam War); Sergeant First Class Andrew J. Thompson, Bluefield (Vietnam War); Captain Charles H. Mann, Athens (Vietnam War); Seaman Thomas E. Caruso, Lashmeet (Vietnam War); Sergeant Gordon L. Caldwell, Jr., Bluefield (Vietnam War); Lance Corporal Ricky D. Williams, Beckley (Vietnam War); Senior Airman Mary Byrd, Nitro (Vietnam War); Corporal Johnny L. Sanson, Cyclone (Vietnam War); Sergeant Dennis C. Hurley, Cyclone (Vietnam War); Corporal William Cox, Bluefield (Vietnam War); and Corporal William L. Harry, Butler, TN (Korean War).
Veterans participating in the Honor Flight as “guardians” include: Command Sergeant Major Kevin L. Harry from Milton; Sergeant First Class Mark A. Harry from St. Albans and Specialist Selena K. Barker of Milton.

These men and women are voluntarily dedicating their time to helping ensure that our veterans receive the thank you they deserve.

A great debt of gratitude is also owed to Dreama Denver, President of the Denver Foundation and Little Buddy Radio. These non-profit organizations, which were founded by Dreama and her husband, Bob Denver, established the ‘Always Free Honor Flight Network’ in West Virginia.

I am so proud of the service and sense of duty that defines the American people. As the beneficiaries of that service, one of the most sacred tasks we hold is properly honoring the dedication of our veterans. In bringing them together with the symbols of their sacrifice, we can express our unyielding gratitude while demonstrating our lasting commitment to preserving their memory. One of the greatest honors of serving in the United States Senate is representing citizens who have given so much to their country. I take seriously the duty of ensuring that their sacrifice is honored with the same steadfast conviction with which they defended the rights and freedoms of every American. Today, I ask my colleagues to join me in welcoming and thanking these exceptional West Virginia veterans.