Charles “Charlie” Kennedy of Livermore at right recently went on an Honor Flight Maine trip to Washington, D.C. Accompanying him on the trip were his grandson, Steven Langlin at left and Crystal Guerrette. Kennedy’s daughter Renda Kennedy Guild at right was at the airport to see them off. Submitted photo

LIVERMORE — For Korean War veteran Charles “Charlie” Kennedy his recent participation in the Honor Flight Maine program is something he will never forget. He wants all eligible veterans to experience it too.

“I would encourage anyone of age who meets the requirements to sign up,” Kennedy said. “Most people don’t know about it.”

Honor Flight Maine (HFM) is a non-profit organization that provides veterans with free trips to Washington, D.C. While there they visit monuments, connect with other veterans and are thanked for their sacrifice and service. First priority is given to World War II veterans. Korean and Vietnam veterans are included as space allows.

Crystal Guerrette, a retired nurse and veteran with 28 years in the Army nurses corps from Wales has been on 11 HFM trips. She first met Kennedy when his daughter Renda Guild’s husband passed away while training for the Dempsey Challenge.

“I was working in the emergency room,” she said. “I took care of Alan and the family then. We’ve had a long close relationship since.”

“She’s a nice part of the trip. Makes you feel at home,” Kennedy said.

Each veteran is accompanied by a guardian who assists with the veteran’s wheelchair and other aspects of the HFM trip. Kennedy’s grandson Steven Langlin was his.

Langlin said, “My role on the trip was a “working” one. This meant I made sure my assigned veteran (my grandfather) had his needs attended to first. Each veteran was given a wheelchair to use for the weekend.

“In the morning we would load the wheelchairs under the bus, get them out at every stop, and then put them back. We made sure the veterans had water and that they had their meals before we ate ours.”

Kennedy’s daughter and Langlin’s mother, Sue Langlin passed away shortly before the scheduled trip.

“When my mother died that Monday, I thought there was no way I’d be able to attend the trip on that Friday,” Langlin said. “But by the time Thursday came, I realized we had to go — it’s what she would have wanted.

“She was very excited that I was accompanying my grandfather, and I knew it was something we had to do. I’m so glad we did. I think after that tragedy it’s what we both needed.”

Guerrette said she is still touched by their decision and noted it to the group.

“It was such a courageous thing. I wanted people to realize even though Charlie didn’t want to be singled out,” she said.

HFM is given police escorts on their trip. A volunteer group through the U.S. Park Service leads the veterans from the hotel in Maryland to and around Washington, D.C.

“The BWI Brownies are retired policemen,” Guerrette said. “They part the ways and stop traffic at intersections so the buses can go right through.

“Saturday night coming home was the same thing. It was 5:30 at night, lots of traffic. They were laying on their horns, motioning people over, making way for the buses to go right down the middle of four or six lanes of traffic.”

Kennedy noted that experience was very different from what some veterans experienced when returning from overseas.

“Everywhere we went was very interesting,” Kennedy said. “Seeing all the people there to greet us and shake our hands was quite a thing.

“At one time veterans weren’t accepted when they came back.

“The thing that amazed me when we got back to the Portland airport was the people with their kids. They’re the next generation. I’d stop and ask the kids their names. They had a blast, had their flags. It’s something they will never forget.

“This new generation is good compared to what it was a few years ago.”

Kennedy said there was a lot of humor on the trip. He tried to put one over on Guerrette by saying he was having trouble swallowing while eating a meal on the bus.

Guerrette said, “Charlie told me ‘I can’t swallow this bread. I had my vocal cords worked on.’ I’m texting Renda about the need to make dietary changes for him. Turned out he didn’t like the meal.”

Kennedy told the story of a park ranger with his German shepherd working dog at Fort Mead who got on the bus and said, ‘I’m here to check for drugs.’

“It was kind of comical,” Kennedy said. “Checking a group of guys in their 70s and 80s.”

Langlin said, “There was a sense of camaraderie among all the veterans. Though they all just met — having been through similar situations, many just “clicked” and were able to form strong bonds.”

Kennedy said there was a swing dance group that he thought was good. There was also a lot of singing on the trip.

“Even Arnold got into the swing dancing. The Singing Sailor, as we called him, was dancing and singing with some of the girls at the bar,” he said.

Guerrette said Arnold was a 92-year old Navy veteran from Lewiston.

While in Washington, stops were made at the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, Air Force, Women’s Memorial and Iwo Jima monuments.  The veterans also visited Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy said he learned during a flag talk that Betsy Ross didn’t make the American flag. At Arlington, they saw the changing of the guards and Audi Murphy.

“He was to World War II what Sergeant York was to World War I,” he said.

Kennedy said the reception upon their return was very impressive.

“The bagpipers. I liked them,” he said. “They were very good.

“We’d hear them calling our names. I was thinking, ‘Holy Cow! What a difference this is.”

“It was amazing to see so many children and adults come up to the veterans, shake their hands, and say, “Thank you for your service,” Langlin said. “It was a very rewarding experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Guerrette said, “Isn’t it wonderful. It’s evident from all the children who meet you, come and shake your hand, that they are being taught patriotism right from the get-go.

“That makes my heart feel good. You wonder sometimes.”

Part of each HFM trip is mail call upon the return to Maine.

“We ask each guardian to get in touch with family, friends, church and town members to write a card or note of thank you, welcome home,” Guerrette said. “During war times mail call was often delayed. Personnel and supplies had to get to the war area first.”

Kennedy said, “I spent 16 months in Korea. I think I got two letters.”

Crystal Guerrette, a retired nurse and Army veteran from Wayne holds some of the many letters Charles “Charlie” Kennedy of Livermore, seen at right received on his return from an Honor Flight Maine trip to Washington, D.C. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Kennedy received four large manila envelopes filled with cards and letters from all over. Five days after his return home he still had more than half of them to read.

“Some I can read, some I can’t. I spent two hours my first day back looking at them,” he said.

Guerrette added, “Mail call always brings what we call allergies, water coming from your eyes. It’s amazing.”

Kennedy and four of his six brothers served in the military. He received a Vietnam and a Korean hat while on the HFM trip. He gave them to his brothers who are in Veteran Administration homes.

“I loved the hats. I couldn’t walk away and not give them to them,” he said.

Guerrette said News Center Maine holds a telethon for the Honor Flight Maine program around Veterans Day.

“Every penny is used to fly every veteran free to their memorial,” she said. “People pour their hearts out, show their love and respect for veterans.”

For more information about HFM or for an application, visit https://www.honorflightmaine.org/.

 

Charles “Charlie” Kennedy of Livermore and Crystal Guerrette of Wayne hold an Honor Flight Maine sign. The pair recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. arranged by the organization. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser


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