He joins other World War II veterans for flight of a lifetime.
Harry Wilson had a long, exhausting weekend.
It’s one the 90-year-old Taft man will never forget.
It began with a predawn wakeup call Saturday morning so he could be at the Kern County Airport for an early flight to Washington D.C. as part of a contingent of 28 World War II veterans who were selected for an Honor Flight.
It ended Tuesday when he presented a check for $104,000 to Taft College to commemorate the 104th birthday of his late aunt, Opal Smith, the town’s oldest citizen who passed away
“I’m exhausted,” he said during a luncheon held at the campus where Wilson presided over a gigantic check and three smaller ones that were awarded as grants to a student organization, the campus library and dental hygiene program.
The check presentation was gratifying, but it was the trip to the nation’s capital and the accompanying fanfare that had him walking so tall.
“It was wonderful, just wonderful,” Wilson said of his whirlwind trip that included a tour of the monuments, witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and touring the U.S. Capital.
His favorite monument, of course, was the newest: the one honoring the Greatest Generation.
Mike Berry, a Vietnam War veteran and friend who served as Wilson’s guardian on the trip, concurred.
“It was all very emotional,” he said. “The changing of the guard was especially moving.”
“It was wonderful,” Wilson said. “We were able to get so close. That was so impressive. They changed the wreath. After we got back on the bus the sergeant of the guard came aboard and talked to us and answered our questions.”
Arlington National Cemetery was another solemn stop.
“You see all those white crosses and you just say, ‘my God,’” Berry said. “It just throws you back. It’s just something you can’t fathom.”
All along the way – from the takeoff and landing at meadows and through the tour – Wilson and Berry were treated like celebrities.
“There were hundreds of people,” Wilson said. “They were all clapping. We received applause all along the way.”
There was even a “mail call” on the trip home when they were presented with cards, letters and drawings from children as young as four thanking them for serving the country.
“Little kids would come up to us and shake our hands and say ‘thank you.’ They were so cute,” Wilson said.
Berry, a 1965 graduate of Taft High, served in the Navy during Vietnam and was delighted to accompany Wilson.
“That was a trip of a lifetime,” he said. “I’m glad I had this opportunity.”
So is Wilson.
“I’m thankful Mike was with me. I couldn’t have made it without him.”
Wilson served in the Army during both World War II and the Korean conflict.
Born Dec. 13, 1921 in a little house on Kern Street, he attended local schools, graduating from Taft College in 1942.
He enlisted in the Army at the age of 25. His score on the intelligence exam was so high it qualified him for West Point. He couldn’t go, though, because he was too old.
“How about that,” he said. “I could have gone to West Point, but they told me I was too old.”
He’s not too old to make a difference in his hometown, though.