Bitely veteran enjoys Mid-Michigan Honor Flight

BITELY — Ralph Grinnell, a 93-year-old World War II army veteran from Bitely, was one of nearly 80 veterans who attended the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

Accompanied by his son, Norman Grinnell, Ralph had the experience of a lifetime touring national war memorials at Washington, D.C., viewing the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and being cheered by a gathering of grateful supporters at every stop along the way.

“My son and I had such a great time,” Grinnell said, explaining each veteran was accompanied by a family member or other person to help carry their bags and assist them. “I was given free supplies such as potato chips, lip balm, kleenex, peanuts and applesauce. My coat pocket was filled with really good caramel candy and spearmint rounds. You can’t even imagine all the stuff we were given throughout the day.

“The plane ride was terrific, being filled with veterans, front to back. It was great meeting other veterans. Some of them I already knew, such as Gordon Bitely from Bitely who goes to church with me. He attended with his son.”

The group of veterans spent Tuesday night at Lake Anne State Forest Campground.

“When we arrived at the campground Tuesday night, we were greeted by a crowd of people and Charlie the miniature-therapy horse. Bagpipers and a drummer performed six to eight tunes. I tell you it was terrific. The guardians received training for accompanying us during the tour. We were all treated to breakfast at 6 a.m. on Wednesday. After we ate, we loaded two big buses and were escorted by police cars and motorcycles about 20 miles to the Cherry Capitol Airport,” Grinnell said.

While in Washington, D.C., veterans toured sites such as the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.

“We stopped at the World War II memorial first,” he said. “When we were traveling to different sites, I wanted to walk as much as I could, but we were required to be pushed in wheelchairs to some of the memorials, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where we watched the changing of the guard. I still had my coat on and it got very hot in the sun. I was impressed with the changing of the guard ceremony. We couldn’t make any noise or talk.”

The veterans also were greeted by some of their Congressmen, such as Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland. They were each surprised by packages of mail from family members, school children and others.

“I love the bag of mail I got,” he said. “I got a letter from a little girl and boy from a school in Kansas called St. Mary’s, and even a letter from Gov. Rick Snyder.”

Grinnell and his son took many pictures while on the trip, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon.

One of the highlights for Grinnell was the reception the veterans received whenever they got off the plane, both in Washington, D.C., and the trip back to Michigan.

“When we would get off the plane, people whooped and hollered and wanted to shake our hands. Bands would play. It was quite an experience,” he said.