World War II vet and granddaughter will be on Honor Flight this weekend

Posted 23 October 2015 at 12:00 am

Richard “Dick” Heard is pictured in his pilot’s uniform when he enlisted during World War II.

Editor’s Note: Michelle Restivo of Albion is joining her grandfather, Richard “Dick” Heard, on the Honor Flight this weekend from Rochester to Washington, D.C. They leave Saturday morning. Heard, 91, is a life-long Albion resident who lives in his childhood home. Restivo is a kindergarten teacher in Batavia. She will share some of her experiences with the Honor Flight on the Orleans Hub.)

By Michelle Restivo

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

The first time I heard JFK’s quote from his inaugural address I was in a middle school social studies class, too busy making eyes at some cute boy across the room to really understand its significance. Admittedly, I’ve never really thought about the quote since. Until today.

This morning, as I scurried around my house making preparations for what is sure to be one of the most impactful weekends of my life, I happened to glance out the dining room window and see this:

A few years ago my husband (who is much cuter than that boy in social studies class, by the way) installed this light/flagpole in our yard. I’m not an overly outward patriotic person, but I’ve enjoyed the aesthetic touch it has added to our home.

Today, when I saw this familiar view, I decided to stop and give it more than just my usual fleeting look. Seeing the flag today, really looking at it, I immediately thought of, “what you can do for your country”. Specifically, what my grandpa, Richard (Dick) Heard, had done for my country. Because tomorrow, I’m accompanying him on Misson 45 of the Rochester Honor Flight for Veterans.

If you’ve never heard of the Honor Flight Organization, here is a brief overview. There are hubs of HFO in many cities throughout the country, and their goal is to fly every US veteran to Washington DC, to tour “their” memorials. After a simple application process, vets are assigned a fly date and a guardian for the trip.

Guardians are volunteers within the organization, or family members of the traveling Veteran. There is paperwork to fill out and a couple of phone interviews for medical and service history. Flight and tour arrangements are made by the organization, and an action packed itinerary is provided.

All of this is free of charge to the vet. Guardians pay a nominal fee to attend. Most, if not all, members of the HFO are volunteers and many are US veterans themselves. The trip appears to run like a well-oiled machine, right down to a welcome home party when arriving back at the originating airport.

I learned about HFO one day a couple of years ago, when I was gleefully shopping at Greece Ridge Mall. There was a table set up with veterans passing out hats to their military brothers and sisters. I wandered over to see if I could make a donation in my grandpa’s honor, and take a hat to him. Being that he is a connoisseur of hats and a US veteran, I knew he would just love this one.

The men behind the table wouldn’t accept my donation, and said they were there that day to spread awareness of the Honor Flight Organization. So, in addition to the snazzy hat, I also left with a brochure about HFO, but didn’t really think much of it. My grandpa has always downplayed his time in the service, so I didn’t really think he would be interested in the program. Downplayed his service?! I know, it’s ludicrous.

But whenever I or my kids have asked him about it, he has poo-pooed it, saying he never left the States. He further says that he didn’t endure what so many other guys did overseas, and that they are the real heroes.

Richard Heard, 91, heads to Washington, D.C. this weekend on the Honor Flight.

Grandpa Dick enlisted in the service in December of 1942, during WWII. He entered pilot training and completed flight school. However, by the time he finished, there were no open spots left for pilots. He was moved to radar mechanic and attended radio school. In February of 1943, he was called to active service from reserve status. He was stationed in no less than six states throughout his time serving, sometimes returning to a state more than once.

Grandpa tells stories of freezing in Oklahoma, and of “blowing off time” after night shifts in Boca Raton, Florida. When troops were sent over to Europe to replace those who had been fighting for some time, Grandpa had acquired too much time enlisted and therefore was not allowed to be deployed. Instead, they sent him back to Texas to be a B29 mechanic. Grandpa returned home from his service in February, 1946.

We’ve just recently convinced my grandpa that his time in the service, albeit stateside, was honorable. He’s started using the VA for his medical needs, among other things.

Last February, I decided maybe I could bring up the idea to him about applying for a spot on an Honor Flight. I still had that brochure from the mall and I looked up additional information online. I was so thrilled when Grandpa expressed interest and even agreed to apply. And now, tomorrow, his time has come!

I asked Grandpa if he’d ever been to Washington, DC before, and he says he was there once, just passing through. I am so excited to be able to travel with him and see his reaction to the many military memorials in our nation’s capital. I’m especially stoked to visit the World War II memorial with him – the memorial that was erected in his honor. I’m sure it will incite feelings and create memories like no other I’ve ever experienced.

I’ve recently discovered that I have a similar sense of awe and wonder for the elderly, as I do for young children. Perhaps in another life, I would have been a social worker for seniors, instead of the kindergarten teacher I am today. I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with so many people from an older generation.

Joining us on the Honor Flight are 53 other US veterans, including 13 other WWII veterans, and one amazing vet who served in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam. I can’t wait to hear my grandpa share stories of the “old days” with these men and women.

I know I might hear some war stories mixed in as well, and that scares me a little. I can’t imagine life during wartime. I’m afraid I might hear of people who didn’t return home from the war. Of people who went missing, were imprisoned, were injured or lost their lives. I’m afraid I’ll be forced to face the fact that I have taken for granted that flag that flies in my yard, by seeing these people who served to protect that flag and our country; all that it was and would be.

My grandpa spent almost 4 years away from his family, putting his life on hold, during a tumultuous time in history. He didn’t ask what his country could do for him; he asked what he could do for his country.

What can I do for my country? What can my kids do? Tomorrow, I can pay tribute to and honor those who fought for my freedom. I can actually thank some of them, in person. My kids can take time and learn about the history of our great country, really learn about it, not just sit through a social studies class or two, barely conscious.

They can seek out older generations to talk to about their experiences during different times in their lives, and gain an understanding of what it means to have the freedom that they do today, as American citizens.

I now know what I can do for my country, and it may not seem like much. But it’s something, and a start. The view outside of my dining room window is the same every day, but after tomorrow, it will mean something completely different. For that and so much more, I’m thankful.

For more information about HFO, click here. The public is invited to attend the Welcome Home Celebration for Honor Flight Mission 45 on Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Greater Rochester International Airport.

Southwest Flight #2840 arrives at approximately 11:20 a.m. The celebration emcee is Adam Chodak, WROC-TV 8 news anchor, and the keynote speaker is Brian Mitchell, Commander, Monroe County American Legion. Color guard is the ROTC Cadets, and music will be provided by Prime Time Brass. The Patriot Guard Riders will also be in attendance.