A real highlight for us during our time in Peoria was getting to attend a special weekly breakfast get-together of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam veterans from Greater Peoria Honor Flight. And what a treat it was! Whenever you have the opportunity to sit at a table of men who served our country, it is an honor and an unforgettable experience.
The very merry group who gathered around the tables this morning were the same fellas who came in by storm the day before and had left everyone holding their sides in laughter and hilarity.
I was delighted to find a seat down at one end of the table next to none other than Abbot and Costello 2.0 a.k.a Harold and Barney, the two life-long friends. We chatted, laughed, and I listened to stories of their escapades and adventures in the local circus.
Barney: "You're from Texas?"
Barney: "Do you know Stinky?"
Me: (laughing) "I don't think so. Where does he live?"
Barney: "Have you ever heard of Seagoville, Texas?"
Me: "Nope." (Despite living in TX all my life... I still don't know all the towns)
We looked up the town and find it right next to Gun Barrel City, another town I'd never heard of. They both ended up living in the suburbs of the Dallas suburbs. Yes, that's really what they told me. After all, 100 miles away is still the suburbs, right?
Harold: "Yup. That's where he lives."
Barney: "If you ever go up there, give him a call. Tell him I say hello."
Harold: "Better not. He'll probably hang up on you when he hears Barney's name."
So much laughter later, we got around to talking about Harold's service in the Marine Corps. Mr. Berg in fact is one of the very last of the elite Marine Corps Raiders. In a sense, the Raiders were the precursor to the US Special Ops Forces. Their job was tough and called for an even tougher type of guy. I've only had the opportunity to meet one other Raider, Bert Stolier of the WWII Museum. He participated in some of the hardest fought battles of the Pacific including Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima.
For Mr. Berg, his time as a Raider was none the less hard. He participated in the fighting at Guadalcanal, Guam (where he was bayonetted in the leg by a Japanese soldier they had presumed dead), Saipan, Bouganville and New Georgia. Later, he received injuries in the face, shoulder, chest, and hand by an enemy grenade. Fighting on Okinawa was brutal, losing all 12 men in his squad. That he survived at all is truly a miracle.
Nearly 92 (in fact we practically share a birthday... just separated by one day and a few years), he is still as plucky a fellow as ever. He told me that within a few days following our visit he would be returning to the Guadalcanal for a special memorial service he would be presiding over. We are a blessed country indeed to have such men as Harold Berg willing to serve, whether it is as a teenager on the battlefields of the Pacific, or as a nonagenarian willing to make the extremely arduous journey back to those same battlefields, just so that the memory of our boys and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
The rest of the breakfast went splendidly. With enough time for everyone to finish their meals, Faith pulled her ukulele out and soon both tables were singing merrily along to different war-time favorites. A few eyes got misty on "I'll Walk Alone." Others reminisced during "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." And they all joined in for, "You Are My Sunshine." It was marvelous.
I must take a moment and thank our sweet and amazing friend, Phyllis Piraino, Vice-President of GPHF. Though we had never officially met until this trip, we'd kept in touch over the years since the girls and I first met the Peoria flight in D.C. And honestly, it felt like we had known her forever. Her genuine love for America's veterans, coupled with a tireless enthusiasm (no small potatoes!) for her work with Honor Flight is a rare quality to find. Throughout the week, we were completely inspired by how Phyllis and the fabulous staff of GPHF have worked not only to send veterans to D.C., but also to include and incorporate the entire community of Peoria as well. Giving anyone - from the oldest to the youngest - the opportunity to thank the men who have served out country. And isn't that what makes the whole Honor Flight experience so special for these dear veterans?
Our few days in Peoria couldn't have been lovelier, and though we've only been home a short while, we are already planning and scheming ways to get back up there. Thank you Greater Peoria Honor Flight for a superb visit and for sharing your time and veterans with us!!