Virgil Sands takes the Honor Flight 2011.04.13

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

virgil_sandsBy DAVID GREEN

Sixty-six years have passed since Virgil Sands was discharged from the U.S. Navy SeaBees. He expects that gap in time might shrink a little today when he makes a visit to Washington, D.C.

Virgil is one of a few dozen Northwest Ohio veterans who will travel to the nation’s capital with Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit war memorials.

For Virgil, 85, it’s the World War II memorial that will be of primary interest.

“I just started my senior year in high school when I went in,” Virgil said.

He left for training on Oct. 6, 1943, the day he turned 18. He had enough credits to graduate, so his mother and sister obtained his diploma the following June at Chesterfield High School.

“I was in Australia when I got my diploma,” he said.

Virgil wanted to join the regular Navy but couldn’t get in, so he signed up with the Navy SeaBees instead. He spent more than two years in the Pacific Theatre in locations such as New Guinea, the East Indies and the Philippines. He was in the Philippines when the war ended, just before he was about to move out again on a new assignment.

“I was in a good outfit,” Virgil said. “If I had to do it over, I’d go right back with that outfit. It was a good experience. Well, I guess it was.”

He said it’s one of those experiences that are worth a million dollars, but one that he wouldn’t do again for a million dollars.

sands.oldHe learned about Honor Flight from a nurse that visits him. Actually, he said, she signed him up for the program before telling him about it.

That was about two years ago and Virgil was finally chosen to participate in the flight that leaves from Toledo Express Airport early Wednesday morning.

He doesn’t know of any acquaintances who will be making the flight, but he would be delighted to run across someone from the past.

“We get to see the World War II memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Korean monument, and the changing of the guard,” he said.

Then it’s back to Toledo by 9:30 p.m. to wrap up a long day.

“It makes for a busy schedule,” Virgil said.

Honor Flight was conceived by a physician assistant in Springfield, Ohio. He saw several veterans in his medical office and spoke with them about visiting the memorial. Since the first flight in 2005, more than 63,000 veterans have made the trip to Washington.

At this time, priority is given to World War II vets and to terminally ill veterans of any war.

The program is funded by donations from individuals and several organizations, including the American Legion. The trips come at no cost to the honored veterans.

The trip will mark Virgil’s first visit to Washington, D.C., but he thinks that spending the day with so many veterans and viewing the memorial is going to make him feel at home.

“It will probably bring back some memories,” he said.

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