For WWII veteran, last mission was sweetest

Schools: Ted Gary, a B-17 tail gunner in Europe, was part of an honor flight to Washington, D.C.

of the GatewayDecember 18, 2013 

Tanner and Jim Peavey, of Puget Sound Honor Flight, introduce World War II veteran Ted Gary to fifth-grade classes at Vaughn Elementary. Gary was a B-17 tail gunnar during the war

KAREN MILLER/GATEWAY PHOTO

Ted Gary survived 22 World War II missions as a tail gunner in the U.S. Army Air Corps. But it was his “one last mission” that meant the most.

Gary was part of Puget Sound Honor Flight’s inaugural trip to Washington, D.C., in October. The Honor Flight Network -- a nationwide program -- is a non-profit that sends World War II veterans to see the World War II memorial on the Capital Mall.

The trip is all-expenses-paid for the veterans. It’s meant to give them a final mission in which they are thanked for their service.

Marci Cummings-Cohoe’s fifth-grade class at Vaughn Elementary School heard about the flight and wanted to help. It started with letters for the “mail call” and turned into a school-wide fundraiser. The coin drive brought in $700.

The class that brought in the most money was Elise Michael’s fifth-grade class. For a reward, the class won a pizza party and a visit from Gary.

Cummings-Cohoe’s class, along with Jim and Renee Peavey, co-directors of the Puget Sound Honor Flight hub, and their son, Tanner Peavey, a sophomore at Peninsula High School, joined in on Gary’s talk and the pizza party. Tanner Peavey is an ambassador for the program at PHS.

Gary was working at a sawmill until he got his “greetings letter” from thenPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was drafted into the Army Air Corps as a B-17 tail gunner. He went all over Europe in the heat of battle.

Once, his crew took off from base to bomb the city of Ulm, Germany. The crew had to return to a different base, because the runway at the first base needed to be repaired.

That night, “the sky just lit up like the Fourth of July,” Gary said. The German bombers were at the old base. One day too late.

“To tell you the truth,” he told the class, “I have tried to forget all of this up until the last five years.”

The purpose of an honor flight is to thank World War II veterans for their service. After all, the memory of war can be painful, like Gary’s close call during the bombing of Ulm.

On the trip home, the flight includes a “mail call.” During the war, in a time before cell phones and video calls, letters were the key to communication. Those mail calls were special, Cummings-Cohoe said. She knows her father, who fought in Vietnam, appreciated his mail calls. The students in her class wrote to Gary and others.

Gary was on nearly two dozen missions in Europe during a war in which hundreds of thousands of his countrymen lost their lives. The memories are painful, the subject matter delicate.

Gary put it succinctly for the class:

“War is terrible,” he said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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