Thanks to the volunteers of Honor Flight and the willingness of furloughed National Park rangers to see World War II veterans treated fairly, 91-year-old John Hoggarth and his son, Richard Swift Cloud, received an emotional opportunity to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The two Bellingham men, local residents since 1970, flew to the nation's capital courtesy of Honor Flight. They were thrilled to tour the memorial and other cherished military memorials on Oct. 5 despite the partial government shutdown, which began Oct. 1.
Hoggarth, retired from the Whatcom County Parks Department, joined the Navy in 1942, not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and wound up working there on Ford Island as an aircraft mechanic during World War II.
He spent 22 years in the military, with the final 16 in the Air Force following its creation in the wake of war. He also saw active duty in the Korean War and retired from the Air Force as a senior master sergeant. He flew as a crew member on B-26s and F-86s.
Hoggarth and his wife, the late Carmen Hoggarth, were married 58 years until her passing in 2011. They adopted two young boys: Richard, now 52, is a full-blooded Lakota who lives in Bellingham with his significant other, Jacinta Two-Feathers; and William, a Japanese-American, now lives in Norco, Calif.
Question: Please talk about Honor Flight.
Richard: Honor Flight (which began in 2005) is an all-volunteer organization that survives on donations and gets no government money (honorflight.org). Their mission is to organize flights to see that as many World War II veterans as possible get to visit the national memorial. I learned about them on TV and submitted my father's name. I was so excited when they called - I thought it was a long shot.
Q: Were you nervous when the government shutdown began?
Richard: We learned in September that John had been chosen to travel Oct. 4-6. I was privileged to go with him as what Honor Flight calls a "guardian." I was so disappointed when the shutdown began, but Honor Flight told us they would make everything work. They sure did! I told them I would do anything to get my father on that plane.
Q: Had you ever dreamed you would ever see the World War II memorial? (The memorial opened in 2003.)
John: I sure did not expect to see it. I served all over the country, but I had never been to Washington, D.C. The memorial is very impressive. I knew a lot of people who were killed. It's serious business - our tour guides told us to bring Kleenex and handkerchiefs.
Richard: I've had a lot of cool experiences, but this one takes the cake. I felt honored to be an American, just proud to be there.
Q: Considering the shutdown, was it tough to get in?
John: No, the park rangers showed up to help us as volunteers (later, Congress decided they will get back pay at the end of the shutdown). They made sure we could get in and see everything.
Q: What was the general feeling among the veterans about the shutdown?
John: There were 44 veterans in our group, which included seven others from the Northwest, and 44 guardians, so we were able to make a lot of great friends. The feeling among just about everyone was generally a feeling of disgust and of wanting to see the government up and running again and people like the park rangers getting back to work. We actually didn't talk much politics.
Q: What other memories will you cherish?
John: We got to Arlington National Cemetery in time to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns (formerly Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). That was impressive. So was the Iwo Jima statue (of the famed 1945 flag-raising) at Arlington. It was really a whirlwind trip.
Richard: I'll always remember seeing that. It was the 3 o'clock change of the guard. What an experience! I was so honored to be there with my dad. I shed some tears. I also got a chance to go into the Lincoln Memorial even though it was closed. A park ranger let me in and I got out before the police came to chase us out.
Q: Richard, you seem so proud of your father.
Richard: I am! I was very fortunate to be adopted, a little boy on the outskirts of Pine Ridge (the reservation in South Dakota). I heard I was a direct descendant of Sitting Bull, so I had a DNA test, and the test proved I am.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.