Last fall, R. Roger Rowe School third graders Madison Stine and Grace Miller were inspired to fundraise for Honor Flight San Diego after watching an emotional video of proud local veterans flown to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. The patriotic pair ended up raising $2,295 and with a matching gift from Grace’s family, they donated enough to send two veterans on an upcoming May 4-6 trip.
Thanks to Madison and Grace’s gift, two local veterans will be among 80 World War II and Korean War veterans on the Honor Flight: 85-year old Korean War veteran Marshall Varano, who will be escorted on the trip by retired Rowe teacher Carolyn Jenson, and Rancho Santa Fe resident George Sousa, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran, who will be accompanied by Rowe librarian Stacey Halboth.
Honor Flight is completely staffed by volunteers and every dollar raised goes toward funding an amazing three-day experience for veterans, which ends with a huge hero’s homecoming at the airport. The public is invited to welcome the veterans home at San Diego International Airport on Sunday, May 6 from 2 p.m.-2:30 p.m., at American Airlines bagging area one.
Before departing on his Honor Flight, Sousa visited with groups of R. Roger Rowe students in the library on April 27; the room was decorated with American flag hearts and thank you notes to veterans that the two Rancho Santa Fe teachers will distribute on the flight. Sousa, a Purple Heart recipient, sat next to Madison and Grace, whom he called his “angels.” The day before his visit, the leaders of North Korea and South Korea, came together to sign a declaration of peace, 65 years after the fighting ended in 1953.
“I’m looking forward to this trip to Washington D.C.,” Sousa said.
Sousa is a San Diego native, born in Point Loma in 1930, the son of immigrants from Portugal. He was drafted into the Army in February 1951—he was 20 years old when he joined, just two weeks after he eloped to Yuma to marry his wife Lou.
He served in the infantry as a foot solider, fighting in two major Korean War battles: The Battle of Bloody Ridge and the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, a month-long battle that took place from Sept. 13 to Oct. 15, 1951.
One of the kindergarten students asked Sousa: “How did you fight them?”
“It was very hard and very scary,” Sousa replied.
In the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, Sousa was injured when his unit was fired on by a tank. He took shrapnel across his stomach and lost two of his fellow soldiers instantly.
One of those killed was his closest friend, only 18 years old as he had lied about his age and enlisted at age 16. Sousa said he keeps a photo of his friend on his desk in his home.
“He gave his life for his country. I think of him every day and salute him every day,” Sousa said. “I’m just one of many veterans and I thank God that the Lord brought me back home in one piece.”
Sousa recalled that when he returned home in 1952, his photo appeared in The San Diego Union Tribune on Thanksgiving, celebrating with his young family. He and Lou have now been married for 68 years and they have three sons, five grandchildren and four great-grandkids.
He said when he meets with students like those at Rowe he is often asked if he would do it all again and his answer is always the same: It was an honor to serve his country and to fight for freedom and liberty.
“I hope you all grow up to be good Americans,” he told the students. “Be good citizens and love each other.”
The next Honor Flight will be in October.
To learn more or to donate visit honorflightsandiego.org