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Honor Flight whisks Nevadans off to D.C.

This fall was certainly an exciting one for Pahrump Valley veteran Leroy Hofer, who was one of 30 Nevada veterans selected to participate in the September 2018 Southern Nevada Honor Flight.

Honor Flight is an organization with the mission of escorting World War II and Korean War veterans to the memorials in Washington, D.C., which are dedicated to the sacrifices those service members made for the freedom of all. Hofer said it was the experience of a lifetime and one that made him feel genuinely honored for the years he spent serving in the U.S. armed forces.

A look back

Hofer was born in Onida, South Dakota on Nov. 11, 1930 and will soon be celebrating his 88th birthday. He grew up in the ranching and farming country of South Dakota until heading off to college. In 1951, Hofer returned from school to find a fateful notice awaiting him, one that would change to course of his life.

“There was a little card on my dresser, it was a draft notice. I went to the draft board and in Sully County, they had a quota, four guys would have to go for the Korean War. I knew all three of the others. One was by the name of Leroy Goosen, who I went to grade school with,” Hofer detailed.

His time of service was not something Hofer wanted to spend time recounting. Rather, he wanted to take the chance to touch on one of the most heart-wrenching times of his service, when he learned of the death of his friend and fellow serviceman. While aboard the ship he was serving on, Hofer detailed that mail call was always an animated time for him and his fellow service members. However, one piece of mail he received during his tenure in the Navy sent shock waves through him.

“I got a letter from my mother and when I started reading the letter, I broke. I got very emotional,” Hofer recalled with tears glinting in his eyes. “In the letter, my mother told me that Leroy Goosen had made the ultimate sacrifice in Korea, on October 8, 1952. That was tough. It was really hard.”

As for his time in Pahrump, Hofer moved to the valley in 2007. “I moved out here, my wife had Alzheimer’s and my daughter was going to help to take care of her. My daughter’s name was Kathy Gailey, she was a counselor at Rosemary Clarke Middle School out here. She was very well-known. Well, my wife passed away in 2013 and Kathy passed away in 2014 because she had cancer,” Hofer explained, sadness tinging his tone. “But I have been here since 2007, I love it here and I am staying here.”

An amazing Honor Flight

It was actually a member of Hofer’s family who originally applied for the Southern Nevada Honor Flight, he added. “One day my son called me and he said, ‘Dad, I’m going to sign you up for the Honor Flight.’ I’d never heard of it but I said fine, go ahead, not thinking I would ever be chosen. Then all of a sudden I got this phone calling saying I had been selected for the Honor Flight. I couldn’t believe it!” Hofer’s face lit up with the memory of his surprise and pleasure.

Anthrom Green was one of the veterans who was set to take part in the Southern Nevada Honor Flight alongside Hofer and Hofer took the time to put the spotlight on him as well. “They had two World War II veterans and he was one of them. He’s almost 100 years old. He was in World War II in France and he was part of the Red Ball Express, he was a truck driver and drove all the supplies to the front,” Hofer said, expressing his profound admiration for Green.

Together Hofer, Green and 28 others prepared for their trip to D.C., each wondering what they would encounter there. For Hofer, at least, the reception was something he never anticipated.

“We got up to where we were going to catch the plane and you know how you have to go down a ramp to get on the plane? They stopped us before we got to the door and all of a sudden here comes this honor guard, Navy, Marines, all dressed up with the flag and everything. We never thought we were going to have something like that,” Hofer enthused. This was just the beginning, however, with Hofer and the others being met with such amazing receptions everywhere they went.

“We got off the plane in Baltimore, Maryland and they had another honor guard, playing music and all these people were there to welcome us. Then we went out, we were getting ready to catch our bus and people stopped. They could see that we were military and it was very heartwarming, very touching,” Hofer said.

“The next morning, we got on the bus and we noticed a patrol car was sitting in front of the bus. Well, I wondered what he was doing up there. Then the patrol car puts on its lights and sirens and away we go!” The Honor Flight attendees were given a police escort all the way into Washington, D.C. and the memorials they were there to see. Hofer said he felt like a “big-shot,” noting, “One guy said to me, Leroy, that’s pretty cool. A lot of the guys thought that was cool, it was great.”

Memorials and emotions

The first memorial the group visited was that for World War II and once again an honor guard was there to meet the veterans as they arrived. Following the World War II memorial was the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“That was something else. It was huge and gold in color, it was just beautiful,” Hofer said. “You see the statue of these Marines raising that flag and I remember that moment in history. I looked around at the guys and it was very quiet. And you know, I was thinking and I think I know what they were thinking about too.” Hofer did not want to go into detail about his thoughts but nonetheless, he remarked that the effect of seeing the memorial was something that he would never forget. “That was probably one of the better memorials. I mean, they are all great but that one was very touching for me.”

The Air Force Memorial was next and Hofer said he was amazed by the visual representation presented at the site. “You know how the jets fly off and they have a vapor trail? They had these long, tall structures going off this way and that way, to look like jet trails. That was very interesting, I thought it was very good,” he said.

The trip continued with Arlington National Cemetery and the veterans approached the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where a surprise honor awaited them.

“A guard gets up and says, ‘Today we have a group of Honor Flight Korean veterans from Southern Nevada and they are going to present a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They took four people from our group and they put the wreath down. I’ll tell you, that is where a lot of emotion came in. Here we were, veterans from Southern Nevada and we get to put a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That was awesome. To be honored like that, that doesn’t happen every day of the week. That was one of the most touching parts of the whole trip,” Hofer stated.

The Vietnam Memorial Hofer described as “outstanding,” and the memorial dedicated to the Korean War was particularly poignant for him. “That was something else for me,” Hofer said. “They again laid a wreath out… and I said to myself, ‘This is for you Leroy Goosen.’”

Overall, Hofer said he was delighted to have been given the opportunity to see so many memorials and create memories that will be fondly remembered for the rest of his life.

For more information on Southern Nevada Honor Flight visit www.honorflightsouthernnevada.org

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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