Jacksonville Daily Progress
Thomas L. Shafer said for the most part, he had a fantastic time visiting Washington, D.C. during the Oct. 10-12 "Heroes Flight" he took with 29 fellow World War II veterans.
He had only one complaint and there was nothing his hosts could have done about it: It took place during the recent United States government shutdown that ran Oct. 1 through Thursday.
"It was a big disgrace for our country — but it didn't really cause a big disruption for us," the 88-year-old said Thursday. "Other than that, we had a great time. There were a few blockades in places but they quickly went away whenever we walked up."
Shafer was one of 30 area WWII veterans invited to visit the World War II Memorial and other sites in a trip sponsored by Brookshire's Grocery Co., an East Texas-based regional chain.
Without this opportunity, many of the veterans now in their 80s and 90s might never have had the chance to make such a journey, officials said.
Shafer — who last saw combat with the U.S. Army nearly 70 years ago — earned both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in service to his country.
He served as a U.S. Army private first class in the Second Battalion, 311th Regiment, 78th Infantry Division in the European theater. Between September 1944 and August 1946, Shafer saw combat — such as the Battle of Ruhr Pocket, Remagen, Rhineland and Black Forest — several times.
“Heroes Flight” is considered one of Brookshire's largest community service efforts. As many as 195 veterans have participated in similar trips so far.
It is the seventh such trip since spring 2010. Brookshire's employees and community leaders are appointed as special guardians to help the GIs during this trip.
And it is absolutely free to the veterans. Brookshire's pays for all costs.
In addition to the trips to the World War II Memorial and tour of the U.S. Capitol, the group visited landmarks such as the Vietnam, Lincoln, Navy and Air Force Memorials.
They also attended the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
"The changing of the guard, that was nice," Shafer said. "They moved the barricades and let the veterans and anyone else who wanted to in."
U.S. Rep Louie Gohmert, R-Texas led the way for most of the trip, Shafer explained.
"Louie Gohmert probably sat with us for four hours," Shafer said. "He spoke to us and we had dinner at the capital building — a catered dinner."
The group's time with Gohmert involved a thorough tour of the capital, which included the senate building.
"We got a little rundown of all the presidents from George Washington on up through George Bush," he said.
Shafer said the federal government shutdown didn't really impede the tour other than the barricades put up in some places and the unavailability of restrooms and water fountains in others.
"I think the Washington monument was closed and maybe one or two others but it was really neat trip," Shafer said. "The great thing is, it cost us nothing. Everything was paid for by Brookshire's. I think there were I think 26 support people, If someone so much as dropped a napkin there was someone there to pick it up."