Published 5/28/2011 in Special Sections
By RACHAEL GRAY
When Larry Deaver received letters from friends, family and grade school children he hasn't met, the World War II veteran fighter pilot was taken with emotion.
Brad Nading/Telegram Hundreds of area residents line the tarmack holding American flags at Garden City Regional Airport April 20 as participants of the Honor Flight return to Garden City after their trip to Washington D.C.
Shajia Ahmad/Telegram Visitors look at the Vietnam War memorial wall, including names of lost soldiers from that conflict.
Shajia Ahmad/Telegram Garden City Honor Flight veterans discuss their experiences touring war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Deaver went on the November 2010 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where he toured the nation's capital and stood in front of his name in the honor roll of the World War II memorial.
The night before the tour, Deaver received special messages as part of Operation Mailcall, a project put together by Honor Flight organizers to further honor veterans. He loved receiving illustrations and letters from children who haven't met him, but who know veterans are important, he said.
LaVeta Miller, secretary/program assistant at Central Prairie Resource Conservation and Development, and Honor Flight committee chairperson, said the mail program is a secret program. She said while the veterans served, one of the parts the servicemen and women most looked forward to was letters from home.
Miller said the program has been successful for both the veterans and families.
"It's just another way for us to make this trip special for them and for their service to us. One of the most humbling things is that the school children understand what their service means," she said.
The letters also are a way to open up communication between family members, as is some of the paperwork needed to go on an Honor Flight, she said.
"They have to sit down with their family members and say, 'Where were you? What branch of service where you in?'" she said.
Miller said some families have never discussed their loved one's service.
"Sometimes that communication hasn't been there, and they've never asked," she said.
For Deaver, his favorite letter came from Marie Fletcher, Leoti, the woman he's dating. The two met on a blind date and hit it off, he said.
Deaver was a fighter pilot in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, at first in training, then landing planes on a Naval fleet in the ocean.
"When you were growing up in an area commonly known at that time as the Great American desert with its blizzards and dirt storms, you probably never dreamed that one day you would be flying a Navy Air Force fighter plane, and landing on an aircraft carrier in the ocean," Fletcher wrote in her letter.
The letter, written by Fletcher, was a joint effort from his family members and Fletcher.
Deaver has read the letter probably hundreds of times, but tears still well up in his eyes each time he reads it and remembers what it was like to serve during World War II, to lose a brother during the war, and to hold the letter in his hand for the first time during his first visit to the nation's capital last November.
Deaver and his three brothers served in the war.
"When the United States became involved in World War II, all of the sons of Edward and Anna Deaver served in the Armed Forces. You volunteered and became a Navy fighter pilot, flying Corsair. You were honorably discharged in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant. Virgil did not make it back. He died in the battle of Luzon, January 1945. Doris said the family was extremely happy that you, Eugene and Dale made it back safely," Fletcher wrote.
Deaver remembers reading the letter in his hotel room in Washington, D.C. He and the man he shared a room with stayed up late into the night, reading and re-reading the letters. Deaver remembers just crying.
"I thought that I was pretty tough but ... We sat there and cried for an hour," he said.
After his discharge, Deaver met his wife, Eva, who had two children, Mike and Sue. They later had two sons, Jim and Tim.
"You were and are a good man with a kind heart. After you and Eva were married in 1947, you raised her two children, Mike and Sue, as your own," Fletcher wrote.
Deaver's son, Jim, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2002.
"You did everything a caring husband could do to help Eva accept what could not be changed," Fletcher wrote.
After 59 years of marriage, Eva died in 2006.
"You have proved that you are still a fighter as you have weathered life's battle injuries, illness, and loss of loved ones. 'Honor, Courage and Commitment' is a motto that you live by," Fletcher wrote.
During this Memorial Day weekend, Deaver said he had no special plans except to take Fletcher dancing on Friday night.
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