Korean War veteran reflects on his Honor Flight to D.C.
Watching the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., with his hand over his heart, was an emotional experience that Don Hampton, a Versailles resident who served his country during the Korean War, will never forget. Honor Flight Kentucky gave 29 World War II, 42 Korean War and two Vietnam War veterans this experience of a lifetime, which began on Saturday morning, April 22, with their flight to the nation's capital. The veterans and members of their families visited Arlington National Cemetery and the war memorials in Washington, D.C. "Seeing all of the memorials was very impressive," said Hampton, 87. But because he "didn't get all of the way to Korea" during his three years in the Air Force, the Eastern Kentucky native acknowledged that his experience was less emotional than those veterans who served in Korea. More than 300 loved ones and other well-wishers welcomed all of the veterans home to Kentucky and thanked them for their service during a homecoming at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington on Saturday night, April 22. "So they're treated like the rock stars that they are," said Jeff Hohman, of Honor Flight Kentucky. "And everybody that sees them all day (in Washington, D.C.), applauds and shakes their hand and thanks them - especially the Greatest Generation for saving the world. "But our goal is to give the Vietnam guys and Korean guys the same kind of welcome that the World War II guys get," he added. Don Hampton's middle of three daughters, Donna Cornish, sent an application to Honor Flight Kentucky so her father could experience this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C., with other veterans last Saturday. "It was a wonderful experience and I knew it would be. It was a great day all the way around," said Hampton, who began his service on Jan. 5, 1951. He trained in Arizona for about two years before going to Japan for a few months, "but the war was over" and he never served in Korea. He returned home on Jan. 5, 1954. Hampton met his wife of 60-plus years, Mary Ruth Picklesimer, before he joined the Air Force - only two or three months prior to his number coming up for the draft. A friend advised the 20-year-old to join the Air Force or Navy before being drafted. Hampton married his wife on July 22, 1952, while home on leave. "I lived one day at a time ..., but I planned to get out (of the Air Force) as soon as I could," he said. His best friend, whom he'd served alongside in Arizona and Japan, was up for a spot to get out of the Air Force in three years. Jefferson Harrison Davis, an airman from Sacramento, Calif., gave his spot to Hampton, who had a pregnant wife at home in Paintsville, Ky. "That's a friend," said Hampton. He and his wife, who died four years ago this month, moved to Versailles after he retired from the U.S. Postal Service 28 years ago. Hampton was joined on his Honor Flight experience by his son-in-law, Guy Cornish, who said the organization's volunteers ensure a memorable time in Washington, D.C. Their experience began with a crowd - some dressed in period 1940s clothes - greeting the World War II veterans, who, along with terminally ill veterans, are given first priority on the Honor Flights. When the next scheduled Honor Flight Kentucky returns to Blue Grass Airport on May 20, Hampton and his son-in-law plan on being there because "we were so impressed by the welcome back that he got," said Cornish. The nation's inaugural Honor Flight happened in 2005 when 12 World War II veterans were flown to Washington, D.C., so they could see the National World War II Memorial dedicated to their service. More than 130 Honor Flight chapters in 45 states provide World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans with all-expenses-paid chartered flights to see the war memorials in Washington, D.C., which are dedicated to their military service and sacrifices. Honor Flight Kentucky was organized last fall, and is one of the newest chapters in the United States. For information on signing up a veteran for an upcoming Honor Flight Kentucky, visit honorflightky.org.