Local veteran appreciates Honor Flight
By Correne Martin
At 94 years young, World War II veteran Fay McCullick, of Wauzeka, took the trip of a lifetime on Saturday, May 17. For the first time, he saw with his own eyes the World War II Memorial erected in honor of his service and the service of his fellow comrades. He was one of 85 WWII veterans (plus guardians and medical/support staff) to experience the most recent one-day Badger Honor Flight, from Madison to Washington, D.C.
“It was a long day. I’m still recovering,” Fay said with a smile, just three days after his memorable tour of honor. “I very much appreciated it.”
Fay and his son, Tom, who served as his guardian for the outing, arrived around 5 a.m. Saturday at the Madison airport, where they participated in a ceremony with speakers. Each veteran was presented with a Badger Honor Flight hat, coat and T-shirt. They boarded a red, white and blue decorated flight and left Madison around 7 a.m. for Dulles Airport in D.C. Everyone from Boy Scouts, motorcycle groups and Uncle Sam saw them off. Then, less than 24 hours later, the flight returned to Madison around 9:30 p.m.
There, the father-son pair and their flight partners were welcomed home at the airport by about 5,000 proud family, friends and supporters displaying patriotic signs and attire. Just as it had been all day, there was more thanks and shaking hands from the general public. There was even a mail call, held just as it was when Fay was in the Army. He received hand-written letters from students he’s never met, neighbors and relatives.
“It was very well organized. I just can’t say enough about the planning that went into everything,” Tom said. “The whole opportunity was just amazing. The weather was perfect.”
“The veterans were so touched,” added Tom’s wife, Sandy.
Because of how much they have sacrificed, each veteran’s excursion with the Badger Honor Flight is 100 percent paid for with donations secured by the organization. Madison, which has provided flights since 2010, is a regional affiliate of the national Honor Flight Network. According to the Honor Flight Network, one flight of about 200 people, including 100 veterans and 100 volunteers, costs about $30,000, which is covered by donations with assistance from the airline. Volunteer guardians pay $500 for the flight. The itinerary includes one-hour stops at the Arlington National Cemetery (view Changing of the Guard), Marine Corps Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Lincoln Memorial, in addition to the World War II Memorial.
“The Changing of the Guard at Arlington was pretty impressive. There was about 500 people standing there and you could’ve heard a pin drop it was so quiet,” Tom said. “All of the memorials were very clean. You could tell they were highly-respected areas.”
During their trip May 17, Fay and Tom were most captivated by the bus tour that took the veterans and guardians sightseeing around Washington, D.C., to see Ground Zero and the September 11 Memorial, the White House, the Pentagon, China Town, the Smithsonian, etc.
“We were done with our tour of the memorials about 25 minutes early, so our four tour buses were police escorted around D.C. It wasn’t just the pretty areas either; it was the not so desirable areas too,” Tom said.
Fay, who was escorted via wheelchair most of the day, was the second oldest veteran on the recent flight. The oldest was 96. There were 82 male and three female veterans on board. This was one of the last flights from across the country to include WWII veterans. Now, there is quite a waiting list as the programs transition their focus to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and subsequent wars as the veterans of those wars get older.
Fay had been encouraged to take the honor flight several times by his doctors and nurses at the Madison VA Hospital. Despite his ailing health, he finally agreed and, in January, found out he would be going. Before the trip, he was nervous, yet ready for the big day.
“I’ve never flown in a big plane before,” he said prior to the tour, “but it can’t be any different than those amphibious ducks.”
Fay, of course, was referring to his time in the military, during WWII. He spent a total of three years (without a furlough) in the Army, spending two of those years overseas. He entered the service in 1942 at the age of 22, served under General George Patton, achieved a rank of T/Corporal and earned four bronze stars for the four major battles—Africa, Sicily and two in Italy—before being discharged in 1945.
Fay is one of nine children in the Charles and Sadie McCullick family of Seneca. His dad farmed, ran an oil station and once ran a feed mill. His mom worked at home. Fay finished school through eighth grade but did not attend high school. Instead, he worked on dairy farms until entering the service on Sept. 11, 1942.
He went to Chicago and from there to Little Rock, Ark., for basic training before heading to New Jersey to be shipped overseas to Africa. He and his comrades were on troop ships for 14 days before arriving in Casablanca. From there, it was on to Algiers, and also Tunis, for more training on using amphibious ducks, as the U.S. troops prepared to invade Sicily.
Before the invasion, Fay also saw some service in Africa hauling supplies to the front line and sometimes prisoners as well. “Wherever they needed us, that’s where we went,” Fay said.
One of Fay’s most vivid memories was during the first invasion of Italy. “We were let out, 12 miles out to sea, at midnight. It was so dark, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” he recalled clearly. “Then we were supposed to make land in daylight, but when we arrived, there was so much fire, we couldn’t make it. We were hauling 105 howitzers. So I picked up the gun crew, and finally, we got so we could get on land to unload the howitzers and set them up. But, then, here came a German tank down the road that started firing on us. We didn’t even have the guns up yet. They blew the side of my tank to pieces.”
Another time, as Fay can remember, “We had pulled in to sleep overnight and our own planes bombed us. Me and the other driver were sleeping in the back and I ended up hit by shrapnel, but it was just under the skin. You didn’t have time to worry about things like that; you just tried to stay safe.”
After the war, in Italy, Fay went on sick call, only to find out he suffered from heart problems and high blood pressure. Not long after, his barracks bag arrived at the hospital marked USA bound. Next, he was put on a hospital ship and sent back to the U.S. East Coast, then on by train to Fort Carson in Colorado, ending his Army stint in 1945.
On a 30-day leave at home, Fay married the sweetheart he had dated before the service, Dorothy. The couple then went back to Fort Carson together, where he was stationed for another month until coming home for good. Out west, the two enjoyed the military community, sightseeing and other shenanigans with their friends.
Post service, Fay was a carpenter, well driller and waterworks contractor in the area before his disabilities ended his working career. He had heart surgery in 1988.
Fay, Dorothy (who passed in 2004), Tom and their family have always appreciated rural, southwest Wisconsin living, especially hunting and fishing.
Fay was a man of few words when asked to express how thankful he was for his Badger Honor Flight experience. But then, down-to-earth, military gentlemen like him don't necessarily have to say much for others to know that this honor was truly special and unforgettable.
“It was worth it,” he said. “I’ve never had my hand shook so many times in my life.”