Honor Flight thanks Rowe students with visit from World War II veteran

A true hero visited the R. Roger Rowe School campus on Thursday, Nov. 30 after two patriotic third graders fundraised for Honor Flight San Diego, an organization that sends World War II veterans to Washington, D.C to visit the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice.

Upon hearing about students Madison Stine and Grace Miller’s efforts through an article in this newspaper, Julie Brightwell, the chairwoman of Honor Flight San Diego, wanted to thank the girls personally for their contributions and bring a special guest veteran to meet R. Roger Rowe students.

The third grade classes got to visit with Val Valentine, a World War II veteran from Carlsbad who will turn 93 on Christmas Day.Valentine served 30 years in the United States Marine Corps and fought in World World II, Korea and Vietnam wars. The Purple Heart recipient has six children, 14 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren with one on the way.

“Honor Flight was one of the highlights of my life,” Valentine said. “What really touched my heart was the Iwo Jima monument. I was honored to be on that island at that time and saw the flag raising.

“It was special to be with all of the veterans, to see them all together and to be treated the way we were.”

Since being founded in 2010 by Dave Smith, Honor Flight San Diego has flown over 1,100 veterans like Valentine.

“The organization is completely staffed by volunteers so every dollar they raise goes directly to funding the trip. The trip to Washington, D.C is a three-day experience which ends with a huge homecoming at the airport. Every veteran goes on the trip at no cost to them,” said the girls’ teacher Janel Maud. “This is the least we can do for them to say thank you.”

Madison and Grace got the idea to help Honor Flight after hearing about the organization from R. Roger Rowe librarian Stacey Halboth, who helped give local veterans a hero’s welcome home from a flight in October.

Last week the girls presented Honor Flight their $2,295 check, plus a matching $2,295 check from Grace’s family — allowing Honor Flight to send two World War II veterans on their next trip, scheduled for May 2018.

Speaking to the room full of youngsters that he said all reminded him of his great-grandchildren, Valentine shared some of his experiences from his service.

“I loved the Marine Corps, it was my life,” said Valentine.

Valentine enlisted in 1942 at the age of 16, fudging his own birth certificate after seeing what was going on in the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first major offensive and victory for the Allies in the Pacific theater during World War II.

“I felt sorry for what the Marines were going through, I wanted to help them out and I joined,” said Valentine, adding that when he speaks to high schoolers today, he stresses the importance of getting an education first before enlisting.

Valentine was away for two and a half years fighting in the South Pacific during World War II, earning his Purple Heart in Iwo Jima and witnessing that historic flag raising.

He was in Korea for one year, recalling that the third day after landing he found out that his wife had given birth to a 10.5-pound baby boy — he wouldn’t see his son until a year later. In the Korean War, he fought in the battle of Chosin Reservoir and participated in many other Central Korean campaigns.

He went to Vietnam twice and while most of his career he was in the infantry as a “groundpounder,” his second time in Vietnam he was a helicopter door gunner. He hadn’t want to go into aviation, he wanted to be a grunt, but once he joined the helicopter squadron he said: “Boy, this is great.”

Valentine retired from active duty in 1973 as a Sergeant Major and proud Marine.Valentine said he is no longer in touch with friends he served with in WWII and Korea, but he frequently participates in reunions with members of his Vietnam battalion. Every Wednesday, he gets together for breakfast with a group of fellow veterans he calls the Carlsbad Honor Flight Association.

“Did you ever lose hope when you were fighting in the wars?” one student asked during a question and answer session with the kids.

Valentine’s answer was resolute:

“No. Never.”Another student asked: “Was World War II scary?”

“They were all scary,” Valentine replied. “It was an adventure, some good parts and some not-so-good parts. It was an honor to fight for my country.”

Brightwell got involved with Honor Flight San Diego after accompanying her father, who was in the Army during WWII, on his Honor Flight in 2007. She continued to volunteer with the organization for the last 10 years and now serves as its chairwoman. She has been on 45 flights with the veterans.

On Nov. 30, Brightwell thanked the girls by presenting them with flowers and a frame with photos from the last Honor Flight, which included many women veterans and one 102-year-old veteran of World War II.

“It’s so important that we get these veterans there quickly and Madison and Grace have helped us with that so much,” Brightwell said.

“This has shown us how just two people can make an impact on the community and the impact of veterans who have served this country,” Maud said. “Ask yourself this question today: How can you choose to make a difference?”

To learn more about Honor Flight San Diego, visit honorflightsandiego.org

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