Long-time Eldon resident Quentine Spencer received a pleasant surprise this past September when he received a call from the Central Missouri Honor Flight asking if he was ready to fly. After about a year and half on the waiting list, Spencer, along with 66 Central Missouri veterans, took the Nov. 6 trip to visit the war memorials in Washington D.C. dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices.
"It's an experience I would never of had the opportunity to have taken if this program didn't exist and I'm so thankful it is," Spencer remarked about this recent trip. "I'll never forget it."
Spencer served the U.S. Army during the Korean War from 1951-1953 and was attached to the first cavalry, 16th Recon. Spencer and his wife, moved to Eldon in 1962 to take over the Eldon Greenhouse, which they operated for about 30 years. They raised three daughters, Chris Hess, Cheryl Wood and Cindy Spencer. Cindy, is a volunteer for the program and encourage him to sign up for the trip.
Since inception in 2009, the Central Missouri Honor Flight program has transported more than 1,000 veterans from throughout central Missouri to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials at no cost to them. Central Missouri Honor Flight is entirely a volunteer organization and is funded by donations from individuals, organizations and businesses who wish to see our aging veterans honored before it is too late. Top priority is given to senior veterans- World War II survivors, along with other veterans who may be terminally ill. Next their efforts turn to Korean War veterans and then Vietnam veterans.
"I think I was probably among the first Korean veterans to get to go on this trip through Central Missouri Honor Flight, however, we had 67 veterans on this flight and there were about 42 guardians. Of this group, there were only 10 World War II veterans the rest of us were all Korean veterans," Spencer said.
"Many of us had been at the same place at the same time not knowing it because we were in different units and stuff like that. Korea is a peninsula and it's only so wide. It's not like World War II where there was the European Theatre and Japan Theatre. Our soldiers weren't spread like they were in World War II. We were all confined to an area."
Through this experience, Spencer also got the opportunity to meet and become friends among fifteen other veterans who live in the Lake of the Ozarks area. The Lake Area veterans who went on the Central Missouri Honor Flight's most recent trip are Robert Berhorst of Russellville, Robert Galvin of Sunrise Beach, Olen Harper of Sunrise Beach, Robert Brumm of Sunrise Beach, Robert Hatfield of Lake Ozark, David Hollingsworth of Laurie, Raymond Long of Camdenton, Donald Patterson of Ulman, Donald Bell of Gravois Mills, Bill Glick of Sunrise Beach, Robert Holmes of Camdenton, George Roemer of Sunrise Beach, Glen Helton, Alfred Ruebb of Gravois Mills and Leonard Walters of Lake Ozark.
The one-day trip departed from Columbia at 1:30 a.m. for the St. Louis Airport and the group arrived in Baltimore, Md. at 9 a.m. Upon arrival in Washington D.C., the veterans first visited the World War II Memorial and Spencer said there wasn't a dry eye in the crowd.
"It brought back memories of comrades that didn't make it back because this memorial opens up a total perspective, not just one phase but it's a total perspective of World War II," Spencer said.
Next they visited the Lincoln, Korea and Vietnam memorials and other stop included the Arlington National Cemetery, Women in the Military Memorial, Changing of the Guard Ceremony Tomb of the Unknowns, Fort Myer, Marine Iwo Jima Memorial and Air Force Memorial.
"It was touching, very touching," Spencer said of the Korea Memorial.
While visiting the memorials, Spencer said many of the men located names of lost friends and comrades. While at the Vietnam memorial, Spencer was able to find a young man that graduated from Eldon High School. Jimmy Don Lester was employed at Spencer's floral business in Eldon and was like a son to him.
"We lost a young man in Vietnam that came to work with us on the COE program. He worked with us two years while in school and he stayed on a year after and then he was drafted into the service," he recalled. "This was also a touching experience out there. I was able to find his name on the wall and I have pictures with his picture with his name on the wall. This was something many people were doing. I wasn't by myself. Many of the fellas were going through that same routine that lost loved ones and friends."
Spencer stated, "In a six month period of time, Eldon lost five young men. I would of loved to have done the same thing for each one of them but we just didn't have enough time to do it."
While waiting to board the flight back home, Spencer said the central Missouri veterans got to welcome another Honor Flight as they arrived at the airport.
"They announced there was an honor flight coming in from Tucson, Ariz. We thought this was great. They told us what gate they would be coming in on and it just so happens it was down from the food court and we all lined up and welcomed them," he said.
As part of the flight home, the organizers at Central Missouri Honor Flight surprise each veteran with "mail call."
"I thought well we got a two hour flight, I'm going to get a nap on that plane. Surprisingly, I wasn't as tired as I thought I was," Spencer said. "I don't know if it was the adrenaline or what it was. But, we got on the plane and I kind of settled back and was getting relaxed right good and this perky little voice said "wake up, wake up, mail call!' Anybody that has been in the military knows the importance of mail call."
Spencer was humbled by what he found in his mailbag. He said not only were there letters from his family and friends, but also there were more than 100 letters from students. Students from School of the Osage and Russellville, where two of his daughters are school teachers at, wrote letters thanking him for his service.
"I waited until the next morning to open the letters," Spencer said. "I sat there and I just would get my tears dried up and I opened another one from one of these kids and start again."
On the bus trip back from St. Louis, the veterans were greeted in Kingdom City by more than 100 motorcycle and police escorts who welcomed them home and led them back to Columbia.
In addition, Spencer said they "really hit a homerun on this flight."
"Four days after the hurricane went through there we came in," he said. "We were one day ahead of the massive snow storm that hit that area too. When we left that evening, the temperature began to drop and the wind was picking up. The rest of that day was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky the temperature was in the low 50's probably."
On Nov. 18, the Spencer attended a "Welcome Home Party" hosted by the Central Missouri Honor Flight for all of the men who attended the recent trip.