On Oct. 5th, a big jet full of American heroes will leave Evansville to visit the monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C.
Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks with a couple who became the first married couple to go on the Honor Flight of Southern Indiana and Scott Zoll, the Honor Flight of Southern Indiana Board Member and Red Bus Captain.
Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth: On October 5th for the 11th time a big jet full of American heroes will leave Evansville Regional Airport. The wheels will go up very early in that Saturday morning for a trip to Washington D.C. There they will see the monuments and memorials many of which would be built without their service and sacrifice over many generations. Joining me tonight are veteran Nancy Clem, who was on the eighth honor flight with her husband Jim Clem. Both are Air Force veterans. And once a Marine, always a Marine – Scott Zoll, who is Honor Flight of Southern Indiana Board Member and Red Bus Captain. We have covered so many aspects of these Honor Flights over the years. First, I gotta ask, Jim and Nancy, why was Honor Flight 8 so important to you?
Nancy Clem: It was a thrill. I was just blown away by the fact that everyone involved the Honor Flight people who put this together, were so kind and good and so helpful – always with a smile. So, we had always heard about some friends of ours who had gone on earlier Honor Flights and how thrilling it was and how wonderful it was to see all the monuments. And I was really eager to go to see them.
Brad Byrd: Jim, you were stationed in Guam and Nancy you were state side, correct?
Nancy Clem: Lachlan Air Force Base.
Brad Byrd: And you proposed to this lady.
Nancy Clem: Yes, sort of.
Brad Byrd: How come sort of?
Jim Clem: Because she said I was the shyest guy she had ever met. So, I walked her by a jewelry store window and pointed to an engagement ring and asked her if she liked that one. So, that was my proposal.
Nancy Clem: That was his proposal.
Brad Byrd: Whatever gets the job done, but both of you were the first married couple to go on an Honor Flight. I’ll get Scott in on this conversation right now. Scott, how many veterans has the Honor Flight of Southern Indiana taken to Washington DC?
Scott Zoll: To date – 794. About 384 or 385 WWII. 395 Korea air veterans and 15 Vietnam.
Brad Byrd: And you’ve got 85 that you’re going to be taking on Oct. 5th. And I know the numbers are changing due to the inevitability of time. How many WWII vets will you be taking?
Scott Zoll: Right now, about 4 or 5 on this flight.
Brad Byrd: And that is so very important. I mean many of your fellow veterans who are with you – tell me about your feelings toward them, when you were there and people coming up and saying thank you for your service.
Nancy Clem: I couldn’t stop the tears. They were just flowing. Even the little children would come up, ‘thank you for your service’. It was touching.
Brad Byrd: Did you exchange love letters at all? You didn’t really get together until after right?
Jim Clem: Until after I got back.
Brad Byrd: But getting mail was so very, very important.
Jim Clem: Yeah.
Nancy Clem: Oh, my yes, the high point of the day was mail call in the service, even in basic training. You were eager. And I remember getting a box of fudge from my mom. Of course, all of my barracks mates flocked in to see if I’d share it. Yes, I did.
Brad Byrd: Well, Scott you know if you’re in the trenches too in WWII – we’re in a day in age of instant messaging, text, etc.… But those men and women had to wait and wait and wait for a piece of mail they sometimes didn’t even get.
Scott Zoll: Right, it’s important.
Brad Byrd: And with mail call, what’s going to be happening?
Scott Zoll: So, what we’re going to do is get these letters from family members, friends, loved ones and everybody else that’s actually wrote to these vets and we’re going to take them with us on the airplane. And as we fly back from Washington DC, they’re going to get a chance to open these letters up, read them, and keep them. That’s one of the main things, you put it in your pocket and keep it the whole time you’re deployed.
Brad Byrd: I think we’ve got some pictures if we could put those up of some the vets who actually get these letters. I guess we don’t have them. Anyway, that’s on the return flight home, right?
Scott Zoll: Yes.
Brad Byrd: These don’t just appear out of thin air – I know your son is helping write letters right now.
Scott Zoll: Yes, actually at Castle North Middle School in their class they had written letters for this flight. We ask again family, friends, schools, churches, everybody – it’s a tremendous outpouring for these vets. And it’s a lot of work to get these letters.
Brad Byrd: And if you do this, where can you drop your letters off?
Scott Zoll: Local Old National Banks, public libraries, Golden Corral, American Red Cross is another one you can drop those off. You can do that until the week before the flight.
Brad Byrd: I was very lucky to go on the fifth Honor Flight and cover that but seeing them being thanked at memorials was one thing. They got those letters, the sparkle in their eye was just – I had to just sit back and observe. How do you report on an incredible story like that? And from perfect strangers. But the welcome home – coming back – the parade will start at Evansville Airport around 8:00 p.m.?
Scott Zoll: Yes sir. About 8:15 p.m. is when we’ll kick it off.
Brad Byrd: They bring these veterans home and during the actual course of the tour, you see so many monuments and memorials, you’re at Arlington that day, most of the vets are using wheelchairs, but there’s a reason for that Scott, right?
Scott Zoll: The reason is for their safety, not to wear them out, and just to get them from point A to B quickly.
Brad Byrd: But you’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
Scott Zoll: We have a lot of ground to cover, we hit the WWII Memorial running, take a big group photo, then make our way to the Korean and Vietnam Memorial, after that we go to Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard then we make our way to the Air Force Memorial – we have two Air Force Vets here. And then we make our way back towards the airport. It’s a long 8 plus hour day with just DC.
Brad Byrd: Now, it’s your turn to welcome back the vets. You’re gonna be there Saturday?
Nancy Clem: Oh absolutely! One thing we want to mention about the wheelchairs is that a lot of them are designated in honor of veterans and my guardian, her father was a POW in WWII and the wheelchair that I was in was dedicated to him, which I thought was amazing.
Brad Byrd: Where do you begin to tell stories like this? Well, we have about 794 stories so far – and counting. Jim and Nancy thank you for joining me here tonight. And Scott thank you for joining me tonight.
(This story was originally published on September 23, 2019)