May 23, 2018

Manchin and Capito Welcome West Virginia Veterans to Washington

West Virginia’s “Always Free Honor Flight” brings 23 Veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Cold Ward, Gulf War, the Middle East to D.C. 

Manchin presents Veterans with Congressional Record Statements to honor their service

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) proudly welcomed 23 Veterans from West Virginia to the nation’s capital for the ninth “Always Free Honor Flight.” Senator Manchin provided each Veteran with a Congressional Record Statement to recognize their trip to Washington, D.C., which included a visit to the Arlington Cemetery, Iwo Jima Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It is an honor to welcome 23 courageous West Virginia Veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials made in their remembrance,” Senator Manchin said. “Without the constant commitment, sacrifice and service of our Veterans, we could not enjoy the freedom we do today. West Virginia is one of the most patriotic states and these West Virginia Veterans embody the Mountain State’s history and contributions made to safeguard America’s liberty. This special honor flight is just one way for us to honor and share our deepest gratitude for their service. I’d also like to thank my good friend Dreama Denver, Pam Coulbourne and the whole Always Free Honor Flight Network for making this trip possible for our Veterans.”

“Our veterans—like the ones I met today—have sacrificed so much so we can enjoy the freedoms we cherish today,” Senator Capito said. “I was honored to welcome this group of proud West Virginia veterans to Washington today for their Honor Flight. As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I always treasure the opportunity to personally thank America’s heroes for their selfless service to our nation, and it was fitting that we could hold today’s event at a memorial that means so much to me and my family. Today and every day, I am so grateful for their service and will continue working to ensure that our servicemen and women, veterans, and their families are provided with the support and benefits they deserve.”

Of the Honor Flight Veterans attending, two served in World War II, two served in both the Korean War and Vietnam War, 14 served in the Vietnam War, two served in the Cold War, one served in the Gulf War and two served stateside. They were accompanied by 4 JROTC Cadets volunteering as guardians from southern West Virginia high schools, the President of the Denver Foundation and Little Buddy Radio, Dreama Denver, the “Always Free Honor Flight” organizer Pam Coulbourne, Vice President of “Always Free Honor Flight” and JROTC Instructor Sgt. Paul Dorsey, Board Member and Official Photographer of the Always Free Honor Flight and the Denver Foundation Steve Coleman, in addition to Veterans’ family members and medics. 

The Honor Flight Network is a nationwide effort that raises funds to ensure that 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.

Senator Manchin wrote the following statement in the Congressional Record:


M. President, today I am incredibly honored to rise and recognize a group of twenty-three heroic military veterans who will travel from West Virginia this week to visit our nation’s capital as part of the ninth Always Free Honor Flight. On the occasion of their visit, in which they will see for the first time the monuments built in their honor, I want to express my utmost gratitude to these special men and women for their extraordinary bravery and patriotism, and for their noble sacrifice to help keep our country free.

I have said this time and time again—West Virginia is one of the most patriotic states in this great nation. With one of our country’s highest per capita rates of military service members and Veterans, West Virginia is undoubtedly one of our nation’s most patriotic states. According to the Department of Defense, West Virginia had the highest casualty rate in the nation during the Vietnam War, and I am so proud that the Honor Flight will allow these West Virginia Veterans to pay homage to their brethren at the Vietnam Wall. The twenty-three Veterans participating in this week’s Always Free Honor Flight truly embody the Mountain State’s history and contributions to the safeguard of our American freedoms.

Our special West Virginians visiting this week represent warriors from fifty to ninety-four years old and have traveled from all parts of our great state – from Buckhannon to Bluefield, Princeton to Beckley, and many places in between. In addition to our Mountain State Veterans, one Veteran from North Carolina and two Veterans from Virginia will be accompanying their West Virginia neighbors on the day-long adventure. Of the patriots attending, two served in World War II, two served in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, fourteen served in the Vietnam War, two served in the Cold War, one served in the Gulf War and two served stateside.

I would especially like to recognize our World War II Veterans who will be on this ‘Honor Flight.’ Ninety-four year old Sergeant Wetzel Ray Sanders from Midkiff, joined the Army in Princeton 1941. He was a gunner and rifleman stationed in Hawaii and is a Pearl Harbor survivor.  Former Seaman Samuel Helmandollar will also be coming to Washington, D.C. The Princeton native and ninety-one year old joined the Navy in 1944 in Huntington and was a gunner. We will also be joined by ninety-three year old Sergeant Rudolph Dillon Jennings from Bluefield. He joined the Army Air Corps 1943 in Princeton and was stationed in England and served in the European Theater. John Howard Winfrey, a ninety-three year old from Lindside, joined the Navy & Air Force in 1942. He served aboard ships in the Atlantic and Pacific as a Torpedoman, 2nd Class during World War II.

These men represent our nation’s Greatest Generation and their sacrifices and valor embody American patriotism. They fought in such a pivotal war, in an era that threatened our existence as a nation. Unfortunately, as the years go by we are losing so many of our World War II Veterans and we must show them our utmost gratitude each and every day.  

As I mentioned, we will also be joined by Veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, Cold, and Gulf Wars. They engaged in combat all over the world. They were pilots, helicopter gunners, and radio operators.

One of these veterans, Curtis Ray Vest of Bluefield, joined the Marine Corps in 1952 in Freeman and served in both Korea and Vietnam. In Korea, he served as a Field Observer for Field Artillery and was stationed in Incheon and Puson. In Vietnam, he was part of the American rescue mission of the French from Vietnam to safety in Japan.

Another of these Veterans is Sergeant Marshall Glenn Mann who joined Air Force in 1968 in Falls Church. On March 4, 1971 during combat at Khe Sanh, the Republic of Vietnam air lift urgently needed to get ammunition to Khe Sanh in to support operation Lam Son719. The objective of this mission was to destroy supply dumps and sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was the corridor running through eastern Laos from North Vietnam to Cambodia and into South Vietnam. Because of the Cooper-Church Amendment passed by Congress in late 1970s, US ground troops and advisers were prohibited from entering Laos. However, U.S. helicopters supported the operation and U.S. fighter bombers, and B-52 bombers provided air cover. Sergeant Mann received the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight for this operation.

Another Vietnam Veteran joining us is Staff Sergeant Danny Lewis Meadows, who joined the Air Force in 1966 in Beckley. Staff Sergeant Meadows was a mechanic on KC-135 Air Refueling Tanker for two years and refueled B-52 bombers and F-4 fighters in Southeast Asia. During his last two years of service, Staff Sergeant Meadows was a crew chief on a C-130 cargo aircraft in the Philippines and Vietnam.  He flew to Saigon and Cam Ranh Bay Vietnam for fifteen to twenty-one days each month. He flew from several bases in Vietnam into the jungle to perform assault landings. He was working on his aircraft and was attacked with rockets and fell off the wing, broke his hip and wrist and with four months remaining on his enlistment and was shipped back to the U.S. to recover.  

We will also have two Veterans that served in the Cold War. One of them, Jackson P. Thompson served as a Recon Specialist from 1971-76.  He was stationed at Fulda Gap in Germany, which was near the area between the Inner German Border of East and West Germany that contained two corridors of lowlands subjected to a potential invasion by Warsaw Pact forces.  

Showing our appreciation to those who have served is something that we should do each and every day, but today is a special day to pay tribute and thank those who have volunteered to put their lives on the line for our freedoms. The memorials our Honor Flight participants will visit today serve as an important reminder to us all that our freedoms and liberties come at a steep cost. However, I know our veterans will find special meaning and potentially long-lost emotions when they tour such touching sites.

The brave West Virginia heroes today have all served this country in a variety of ways, working both at home and abroad. They have engaged in combat on U.S. soil in Pearl Harbor and all over the world, at the Panama Canal, working on the docks of Saigon, protecting the border of West Germany and serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. One of our visiting Vietnam veterans, Sergeant Dean Fluharty, who joined the Marine Corps in Parkersburg, earned a Purple Heart, Silver Star, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and a Good Conduct Medal. But regardless of their rank or duty, each and every one of these veterans answered our nation’s call and has served with incredible pride and valor.

This week’s ‘Honor Flight’ and the continued support of our Veterans would not be possible without the dedication of so many volunteers and caregivers. I would like to thank the four JROTC Cadets from Montcalm, Bluefield and Princeton High Schools as well as the military spouses serving as the guardians on this year’s ‘Honor Flight.’ These guardians have selflessly given 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.

I also commend those in the ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ Network for their dedication to providing our Veterans with such a unique and meaningful experience. Without the diligence and passion of Dreama Denver, President of ‘Always Free Honor Flight’ Network and owner of Princeton, West Virginia’s Little Buddy Radio, as well as Pam Coulbourne, the coordinator of these flights, 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 every year, they continue to make this dream a reality for many of our West Virginia Veterans.

I’d also like to recognize Sergeant First Class Paul Dorsey, Vice President of Always Free Honor Flight and Official Photographer Steve Coleman, who have done a tremendous job of ensuring that our Veterans receive the recognition they deserve. Dreama, Pam, and Steve have also dedicated themselves to the Denver Foundation, serving as incredible examples of how individuals can give back to their communities.

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.

God bless all our service members and veterans, God bless the great state of West Virginia, and God bless the United States of America.